By Joan Larsen
The very best . . . the most wondrous times of life come to us at the most unexpected moments. The few that touch our hearts in that certain way stay with us forever.
For most of a lifetime of driving down to Carmel and Big Sur along the Pacific coast of the United States, we find each changing beauty irresistible. The quaint historic fishing village of Moss Landing – just north of Monterey – has always drawn us in, a natural spot to soak in a world so welcoming. There were constant cheers on the tiny cruise boat we had chosen to take out into the ocean: the spy-hopping killer whales up and casting their eye in our direction had our hearts racing, the sea otters floating on their little backs without a care in the world, and the pelicans striking poses on their perches had each given us a glimpse of the natural world that city folk just don’t see.
But – it was in this moment in time – on this little cruise boat – that was to be the beginning of a life-changing day for me. You see, since I had been to Moss Landing last, the little community on the shores of Monterey Bay had installed a pier for visitors at a cost of $800,000. It was to be used for boaters and kayakers to make their way to the ocean or to the town’s pride and joy: Elkhorn Slough where nature’s finest of birds and animals abound.
The word of this “palace of a new home” had to have spread fast to the thousands of gorgeous sea lions, living in far less desirable quarters along the coastline. By the next year, this 5-star-resort of a pier had become the permanent home of every sea lion that could fit on it. By the time we saw it, the numbers had increased. They were flailing in the waters, trying to make their jump for the prime penthouse location on the top of the heap. Gigantic males, gorgeous females, and tiny babies were lying one on top of the other four deep, just basking in the sun and their good fortune.
From years spent in the polar regions with the southern version of these sea lions, I can tell you that the weight of the creatures and their shifting around can easily kill the babies crushed in. But here – on this pier – they can be easily shoved off.
And so we drove for a closer view when we returned from the ocean, parking as close to the substantial fence — now guarding the pier from the people it had been originally built for.
Hearing a small noise, I turned. Looking up at me with the biggest eyes was a baby seal lion pup, alone and lost. There is no returning a baby or ever finding its mom in this heap on the pier. I sat, legs out, corralling the little one from heading out to Highway 1 traffic. . . and in the process, this little honey – with the large eyes and little sounds – bonded with me. (For those who have not lived so much of their lives in the remote wilds, I will just say that it has happened to me more than you might believe).
One of the most special aspects of those living on the Pacific coastline is the love and respect they have for animals. Marine Mammal Centers, large and small, care for the abandoned, the hurt, with love. Keeping the baby from heading toward a certain death as she began to move was much like keeping a toddler, determined to explore, from danger. Using my cell, I called the nearest center for help, as I blocked this beautiful baby from looking for the mother she would never see again.
The phone voice was kind, saying that the volunteer and truck were on the way. A beautiful young woman emerged, armed with a net, and the two of us made a plan to place the pup in the special container on the truck’s back . . . in a careful way that would not traumatize the little one.
Perhaps it is a bit embarrassing to say, but I loved this baby. I was attached, shedding tears by the time we had carefully worked together to bring her to her temporary new home. The woman was tearful, too, as this baby was beautiful and so tiny. Now it was to be in her care.
“How will I be able to find out how the sea lion baby is doing?” I asked. “Please,” the volunteer – who was now on a first name basis with me – said, “you saved the baby’s life, so you can name her.” I am betting that Prince William did not spend as much time deciding on his child’s name as I did! I settled on “Honey” as that is what I had called her as she looked into my eyes from the first moment.
And so “Honey” was noted, exchange of phone numbers and emails followed.
Our vacation was punctuated by calls to this kindly young woman – who seemed to understand. The two of us had saved this little animal initially. But it was her loving care of Honey that would now make the difference. I sent funds for her care. The emails in return made me feel I was part of the next step toward her return to the sea. Records were sent with the list of the orphans‘ names and their current status. There was Honey. The bond only strengthened.
And then – there came the day when she was to be released, healthy and ready to live her life at sea. A photo came of this beautiful mammal, now looking like a teenager eager to go out into the world, peeking out of the truck. Soon she will be hopefully living a long life that sea lions may have, glorying in her underwater world.
Yes, this is but a story of a moment in time. But as each of us looks back on our own lives, I believe that we find that it truly is the small moments – the times that we have been touched beyond belief – that remain our personal touchstones in life that we are able to bring up in our minds like they were “yesterday.”
This is what I believe “the best in life” is truly all about.
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
– Maya Angelou
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”