This little guy looks brand new. But I haven’t cleaned up after a complete birth yet this year–though I did see evidence a birth had begun. If disturbed, they can halt the process and carry on elsewhere. That may have happened here. She may have gone to the yacht club next door to finish.
After four years among the Selkies of Dogfish Bay, I remain perplexed by their mysterious ways. This is the first blog post about the 2019 seal birthing season.
Last June I had the good fortune to land a job at at the Dogfish Bay Marina. Aside from sweeping the docks, parking lot and the endless chores, I found myself cast in the role of a sort of ambassador between the human and the pinniped populations. I experienced the trauma of a seal pup, abandoned by it’s mother, slowly die from starvation.
Seals must get a firm scent at birth in order to establish contact. Immediately after birth, the mother clasps her newborn by the nape of the neck in order to get the scent. If this process is interrupted, the mother fails to establish the link which allows her to “recognize” her pup. Through the interference of a well-meaning child, this process was interrupted, and the mother let her offspring starve. After the poor pup’s demise, she haunted the dock near where her pup had hauled out on the low swim-step of a speedboat; her eyes streaming with tears.
For ages, seals have emanated an aura of magic. In the Celtic stories of the Selkies, a hunter, on a quest for worldly riches, is summoned into the depths by a shape-shifting, seal messenger of Lachlann’s undersea Kingdom. After a lengthy stay, the hero returns to terra firma transformed by his experience–a wiser, more compassionate being. His cruel, rapacious heart is softened by his ordeal and he emerges a changed man; one who has seen the depths of profound reality below the selfish preoccupations with material gain. Such a visitation by the Selkie heralds an epiphany– an awareness of our deep relatedness with all creation.
Among Northwest tribes, seal people played a role as emissary of their guardian King, Komokwa, in the winter Tseteka–shaman–dances where supernatural beings came from the spirit world to initiate the young into the dancing societies. A seal conducted the novice into the submarine world where, after a period of fasting and prayer, he returned to the tribe in a canoe laden with a wealth of copper, to found a new lineage which was then honored in the dancing houses.
By day, the lumbering hulks of seals lounge on the docks. One night, I saw a flash of green phosphorescence as the seals sped below the surface of Dogfish Bay. These mercurial denizens of the deep bridge the yawning divide between the conscious and unconscious energies, and guide the seeker into timeless mysteries where shadowy beings lie below the reflective surface of the sea. Their uncanny visitations shake up our smug assumptions of human supremacy and herald a new awareness based in feeling, compassion, and illumined by the transfiguring light of dreams.
This is my first post telling of my experience as pinniped ambassador, documenting scientific observation, and evoking the mythology of seals. I hope my blog is informative as well as therapeutic. After the traumatic death of Bobby last Summer, I wish to be better prepared to deal with all the many, tragi-comic aspects of the birthing season.
So the land swap was stopped when the City Attorney admonished the Council it was their obligation to compel Parks to abide by the terms of the transfer and honor the restrictions. The Council then voted unanimously to record a conservation easement which would preserve the Tot Lot in perpetuity.
But then, Val Tollefson moved to delay the recording of the Conservation Easement while an access road was worked out between Laughlin, Parks, and the adjacent, Madison Cottages community. It seems the Madison Cottages folk decide it best to accommodate the access road because if the Wyatt Cottages proposal is not granted, a more intrusive and aesthetically disagreeable development might replace the good work of Cutler/Anderson Architects.
Point well taken, but too smacking of defeatist accommodation for me. And since the good folk of Madison Cottages represent a mere fraction of Park’s-going public, why should they have such disproportionate influence?
We await the announcement of the Wyatt Cottages proposal to the Design Review Board with a mixture of dread and anticipation. Will the concerned parties present accurate information this time around regarding the Declarations of Covenants, Restrictions and Reciprocal Easements–remember those?
This is but a sketch of a convoluted tale of intrigue. There remain such details as the erroneous reports by the County Assessor, a land value increase of nearly 80% the very year the property was transferred to Parks, the “disappearance” of the studio from the assessor’s building report 2 years before it was demolished, the miraculous appearance of a ghostly pole-frame building, mysterious address changes, and specious readings of legal terms.
It seems we are afflicted with a double denial of many troubling aspects of the concurrent Wyatt Cottages and Suzuki developments. On the one hand, the Madison Cottages community–as well as the Friends of Suzuki– sweep the shady history of land transfers to Parks under the rug. On the other, we have the present Council embarrassed by their part in obscuring Parks and the previous Council’s questionable deeds. Add to this HRB’s reluctance to jeprodise Council support by allowing public scrutiny of these sketchy practices, and the tight-lipped, good old boys in the Building Department, and you have a first class cover-up.
All sides of this debate can be said to lack transparency. We need a fresh and honest perspective on the issues that shape the island’s future. We need tranlate our high ideals of inclusiveness and economic equality into practical solutions while preserving the precious remnants of our natural environment.
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).