I’ll bet, like me, you’ve stood listening to seals or sea lions point their snouts into the air and let out a series of barks. Perhaps you’ve witnessed an entire herd or them racing frantically around creating a cacophony of sound. They almost seem frantic to deliver a message.
Thanks to outdoor projects.com
There is a spot on the Oregon Coast called Simpson’s Reef where hundreds of seals, sea lions, and other pinnipeds stop to rest while on their migration journey. If you roll down your car window as you approach, you can hear the barking. Seeing and hearing them is an awesome experience.
I decided to come up with a story that gives my explanation as to why they do this. You may or may not agree with me, but, hey, that’s why they call it “fiction.” I hope you’ll read my first novel, With Which the Waters Swarm, then let me know what you think. With Which the Waters Swarm is an easy read, for middle-grade readers as well as young adults and adults.
Finally! One of my novels is complete. With Which the Waters Swarm has just been put up on Amazon.com and will be available other places as well. It’s available in both print and as an e-book. I’d love to get some feedback on what you think of it.
It’s the story of a herd of North Pacific Fur Seals who are threatened by sealers facing a recession. The men therefore ignore all international rules regarding how many seals they can take. In other words, the seals are being wiped out. During their Great Migration, the seals, absent their protective leaders who were taken by the sealers, must come up with ways they can fight back.
Each seal has an adventure during its Journey that contributes to the knowledge base of the herd. A grand battle ensues upon their return. I’ll leave you to read it to learn the outcome.
I started this novel while riding the bus into Boston many years ago. I’d start writing when I got on the bus for the hour’s ride into the city and not stop until I got off. Then I would hurry out of work at the end of the day, hop aboard, and continue. I’ve been “massaging” it ever since. Hopefully, it will be worth the wait.
I think the book will be of interest to everyone from middle school through adult. But you tell me.
The rugged Oregon coast
One day I realized that I have seldom lived more than a couple of miles from an ocean in my entire life. Growing up in a fishing village on the Oregon Coast, I never gave a thought to it. Our home overlooked the ocean; I worked on my father’s salmon fishing boat during summers; while in college, I had a flagman’s job on a bridge that fishing boats crossed under; I worked at the Sunset Beach State Park.
Then, in the Navy, after boot camp on San Diego Bay, I was surrounded by ocean while stationed on Guam. I even flew on seaplanes down to many of the small islands in the Mariana Islands, islands where water/land battles were fought during World War II.
Now I live in Massachusetts, on the South Shore below Boston. One of the contiguous towns to me is Marshfield. Why I bring this up is that, in Oregon, I lived for a while in Coos Bay, a town that changed its name from Marshfield. My Oregon history book tells me that settlers there came from Marshfield in Massachusetts.
All of this is a way of saying it’s no wonder that the novel I’m just ready to publish, With Which the Waters Swarm, and the others I’m working on, all involve an ocean or two. No matter how I’ve tried to steer my writing elsewhere, that darned water won’t let me. Is that a bad thing? Of course not. But what it means is that you readers will have to put up with my infatuation when reading my books. Of course, that’ll be easy for those of you who also love the ocean. If you aren’t water fans? I hope I can convert you.
When I was growing up in a small fishing village on the Oregon Coast, I never gave a second thought to the possibility of running out of natural resources. Whether lumber, fish, trees, or whatever, there was always an abundance. I can recall going down to the protective rock jetty at the boat basin with a handmade spear consisting of a stick and a coat hanger and stabbing flounder after flounder as they came in with the tide through the rocks. Or putting four hooks on a fishing line and dangling it from a boat in the sheltered harbor at Sunset Beach and pulling up four hooks filled with black cod every time we lowered our lines. My brother and I used to go out behind our home, which was attached to the back of my dad’s tavern. There were a bunch of old cars turned upside down and sideways in a swampy area. We would spend hours with our BB buns shooting waterdogs as they rose to the surface. For those of you who don;t know, these are a type of salamander apparently called mudpuppies in some sections of the country.
We typically did nothing with any of these “prey.” We wouldn’t eat them or give them away. As far as I remember, we’d just dump them back in the water or probably leave them to rot on a beach. Looking back, it is embarrassing. But that was the culture where I lived. Salmon fisherman were out to take as many cohos and chinooks as they could and they began complaining when the government started talking about setting limits. Lumber companies–Weyerhauser, Menasha, Georgia Pacific–raped the steep hillsides of Douglas-Firs, Western Hemlock, and Port Orford Cedar until forced to restock with seedlings and to leave large stands of choice timber alone.
Today, of course, the world faces one of its worst environmental dangers, the potential destruction of our planet because of greenhouse gases. As 70 nations meet to discuss the damage and remedies, most of us citizens go about our business polluting just as we always have. Cutting back on emissions would be a nuisance and an inconvenience. After all, there are plenty more waterdogs in the pond.
I’ve always liked the question, “What three things would you take with you if you were shipwrecked on a deserted island?” It does give you pause about what’s important to you. I always wondered if it would spoil a budding romance if I embarrassedly admitted that one of my choices would be a jar of mayonnaise. I seem to use it on everything. Maybe it’s because when I was in college, my roommate’s mother used to send us homemade mayo with fresh California lemons right off her tree. There’s never been any other like it but because she hooked me on it, I use whatever brand I can find on sandwiches, vegetables, fish, and a lot more.
When I was in the Navy and flew to islands in the Pacific, we took a lot of odd items to “make a deal” with the locals. The natives loved trading with us. They would give us monkeys, fish, and bowls carved from mangroves or palm trees, fans handmade using seashells and braided coconut husks, carvings from coral, and giant turtle shells. We gave them cans of paint (don’t ask me what they used them for), tools, cigarette lighters, and yes, I’m ashamed to say it, cigarettes and cheap jewelry.
This was many years ago. I wonder if they still live there, still have coral, turtles, and giant clams? Anybody been to Ponape, Ulithi, Yap, or Truk lately?
In one of the creative writing courses I took in college, I was writing a piece about the time in the Navy when I visited the flag-raising monument on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima, where some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting took place in WWII. On the way up the mountain, actually just a hill, I and my fellow sailors, all of us in uniform, passed a group of Japanese tourists coming down. We eyeballed each other and probably had the same thoughts.
But what I wanted to refer to in this blog post was that, in my writing that day, I wrote that when I looked over at the beach from the trail we were walking, “I could almost visualize the sandy blood.” My professor made a big point of stating to the class that this sentence would have had far less impact if I had written “bloody sand” instead of “sandy blood.” He said that while one was a rather trite phrase, the other said a lot more about the carnage that had occurred there. I’ve always taken that to heart and tried, in my writing, to use little twists like that for effect. I suppose sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. But maybe my point is to occasionally “think outside the box.” (oh, how trite is that?)
When starting to write this blog, I thought of the old Everly Brothers hit, “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” in which there is a line that says, “I’m Dreamin’ My Life Away.”
I can’t remember the name of the first creative writing instructor I had in college, but I can remember how he got me to consider writing a novel. We had just completed an assignment of writing our first short story. Mine was about a boy growing up on a Pacific Island and his adventure at taking his father’s fishing bird out in the lagoon of the coral atoll. Instead of fish for dinner, he catches and kills a shark with just a knife. I assume I must have done a good job with it, because, after reading it and the others in classes, the teacher caught me after class and asked, “Do you have any more of these stories?”
I was caught by surprise, but with little thought I replied, “Sure.” Having spent two years in the Navy flying down to small islands in the Pacific, I figured I could come up with more. “I suggest you write them, then,” he said. So I did. I wrote a couple more for that class and then, after graduation and getting a real job, I wrote every day on the 45-minute bus commute into and out of Boston. The result was The Ages of Oosig, my first novel, which to this day I am still working on publishing. And then I wrote another novel. And then I started on a third.
My intent here is not to brag that I accomplished this feat since all of them are unpublished at this loin. But I wanted to reflect on the fact that, while writing that first story, I was in college as an Electronic Engineering major, a career that I achieve only tangentially as a marketing writer for a high-tech company. I was taking the writing course as a diversion from the complexity of engineering studies. Those few words from a professor gave me a dream that I have carried with me ever since. Now that I am retired, I can work harder at making that dream a reality.
I wonder if you have similar dreams of a future unfulfilled? Is that so terrible?
Life growing up on the Oregon Coast was not like being raised in other parts of the United States. One day while I was traveling from my home in Oregon to San Jose State College where I went to school, I stopped at a Sambo’s restaurant for breakfast. I think it was in Eureka, California. You may remember it as the breakfast place whose logo was an unfortunate takeoff on The Story of Little Black Sambo and featured a black boy eating a pile of pancakes while a tiger circled him. Founders Sam Battistone, Sr. and Newell Bohnett thought it would be cute to play up the reference to the popular book by Helen Bannerman, despite the fact that they were just combining parts of their names for the restaurant.
[This might actually be a photo of the Sambo’s where I stopped, although this photo is from 1974, probably 10 years after I was there. Note the more generic logo. Out of 1200 restaurants in its heyday, only the original in Santa Barbara still exists.]
But the name is not what I’m writing about. After I ate, I was walking back to my car when I past a dusty, beatup car parked on the street. A movement in the vehicle caught my attention for a second and I glanced in as I walked past to see a large reddish-brown dog climbing over the seat. It wasn’t until I was 10 steps past that it dawned on me that it had an awfully long tail for a dog. I started back for a better look and pulled up short as a huge cat face stared out at me. It was a mountain lion, often called cougar or puma, or even panther depending on where it roams in the world.
I could see that it didn’t have a chain or collar around its neck. No, I didn’t go up and pet it. Thankfully the window was rolled up. If I had had more time, I might have waited to see who came out of Sambo’s and got into the car. But I needed to get to San Jose to pick up my roommate at the San Carlos airport.
At the time, it didn’t strike me as too odd for someone to have a mountain lion for a pet. Today, looking back, I understand why everyone I’ve told who was from outside of Oregon was amazed. But that was life in rural Oregon. In fact, my wife laughs that, while other kids had bomb scares at school in the 1950’s and 1960’s, we sometimes had cougar scares. They would infrequently be seen wandering the school grounds.
Life on the Oregon coast is still rough in many places. But that’s part of its charm. If you haven’t visited, do so. You never know what you might see.
My wife and I have been planning on taking a trip to Africa, Kenya and Tanzania in particular, to witness first-hand the Great Migration and to see the Big Five close up, that is, relatively close up. My concern is to get there before they’re all gone.
If you wanted, you could read every day about the overwhelming reduction in elephants, rhinos, zebras, mountain gorillas and other beautiful creatures due mainly to poaching for ivory, horns, pelts and . The black rhino alone is down 96.7% since 1960; 35,000 elephants were killed last year. Poachers ride into reserves on horses or attack in helicopters carrying AK-whatevers and night-vision goggles and slaughter complete herds. Despite bans on the sale of both ivory and horns in many countries, we are still losing ground. The economic rise of one huge nation in particular, one that seems to be oblivious to animal endangerment, is resulting in the deaths of thousands of animals. Efforts to implant cameras in horns and sensors on tusks in order for governments to more quickly react to poachers are just experiments. Bloodhounds might be able to track poachers after the fact, but too late to save the animals.
So what does the world do while the irreplaceable animals of Africa are being wiped out? Apparently the same thing we do about the impact of climate change–little. It appears that other countries feel it isn’t their duty to help contribute to the effort to fight poachers alongside the African nations. Why would they? Most countries do little to prohibit the genocide of millions of people who are being slaughtered on the lands of their neighboring nations. So why would they give a hoot about dying animals in distant lands? And don’t get me started on reefs and creatures of the sea.
When I was in the Navy (please don’t ask when that was), I was stationed at the Naval Air Base in Agana, Guam. Part of our mission was to support the natives on the various islands in the Marianas Islands and other islands in the area–Saipan, Tinian, Palau, Ponape, and many others. Some of these names will sound familiar to those of you who are into the history of World War II in the Pacific.
I was part of a seaplane crew that flew down to these islands. We flew HU-16 Albatross seaplanes. [See one here – ] Many of these islands were coral atolls, meaning that they were roughly a ring of coral with a lagoon inside and some raised land areas on which the people lived. For those islands too small to have a landing strip, we would put down inside the lagoons. The only problem with that is that coral can grow at 2-4 inches per year and our maps were often old, old, old. Although we could see coral spikes in the lagoon from the air, when we landed in the lagoon it was difficult to know we weren’t running into one as we water-taxied into the beach.
So a couple of us crew members would put on our bathing suits, don snorkels and diving masks. and swim out to the pontoons. Hanging onto these with our faces in the water, we would guide the pilots through safe waters using clever left- and right-hand motions. When safely close enough, we would either beach the aircraft or anchor out and let the natives paddle out to fetch us. While the “important” people with us conversed with the natives–sometimes a doctor tending to a patient, sometimes an admiral there to watch a school graduation– we crew members would often snorkel around the lagoon, collecting unusual shells, sharing space with spectacular schools of fish, or shallowly diving down among the colorful corals.
Often called the “rainforests of the sea,” these reefs and those around the world are dying at a rate similar to that of the true rainforests. Coral reefs provide about 30 billion dollars worth of goods and services related to tourism, fishing, building materials, and coastal protection and that figure is diminishing rapidly. The cause of the problem? The primary one is carbon dioxide emissions, resulting both environmental warming and acidification. Read this for more.
When will we take our heads out of the sand–or coral–and admit to global warming? Will it be too late for the coral and for the marine life it supports?