Jogging along the beach this morning, I came upon a sea lion. At first I thought he was dead, because he was flat out and because we occasionally get dead seals, stingrays and fairy penguins washing up, particularly after a storm, and because he wasn’t moving. So it goes. However, although he mightn’t have been feeling crash hot, he took a deep breath as I looked at him and he blinked an eye to get rid of the flies swarming his face. Beached, injured, dying perhaps, but still alive. A magnificent beast from a different world and a sight to behold.
It’s put everything else out of my head today and reminds me how much I enjoy living close to the sea where such things occasionally happen. More than this, it also reminds me of what I find important in the stories I enjoy reading and writing: where the extraordinary rises to the surface of the ordinary (so that what is extraordinary seems ordinary, and what is ordinary seems extraordinary). At one extreme, it’s why I enjoy the surreal diversions in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-5, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, or Murakami’s novels, and, at the other end of the spectrum, why I enjoy Tim Winton’s stories so much.
To my collection of such experiences, I’d love to add something my son witnessed a few months back: a killer whale (very rare in these waters) leaping into view a hundred metres off the lighthouse and then diving again. Or the pod of dolphins my wife watched one afternoon. But I can claim the occasion a New Zealand friend was staying with us and saying how she’d never seen a kangaroo in the wild, when one went hopping down the street a few seconds later (the first time we'd ever seen one so close to the house). However, and just to prove there’s an urban equivalent to these moments, I’ve held onto the memory of something I observed when I was in Melbourne last year: a blind woman---dark glasses, white cane tapping the pavement in front of her---wheeling a bicycle at her side. It stopped me in my tracks, and I waited to see if she’d mount the bike and start pedalling down the street, tapping the cane in front, but she never did.
I’ll never find out the rest of her story, although I wonder about it sometimes, but I was able to follow through on the sea lion. As soon as I reached home, I phoned a wildlife emergency number, and within fifteen minutes they’d returned the call to let me know that a vet had previously been called out to look at him, that they suspected he was suffering from a hernia or a tumour, but that they’d continue to check up on him. Later, I’ll head back to the beach to see whether he’s still there or has found his way back into the sea.
C'est la vie.