When you live so close to nature, you get to know individual animals in the area. They’re always there, in the background, like kids you only see in the playground but who belong to another class. You don’t know their names or much about them, but you can recognize them. They’re a familiar part of your life.
There’s the crow that meows like a cat, the crow that chatters like a kookaburra, and of course our ever-watchful resident bald eagles who preside over the day-to-day events of our life in Ukee.
A month ago, after all the resident sea lions had abandoned their winter hang-out under the fish plant, a female sea lion hauled herself out of the ocean and threw herself up on the dock. A horrific, bright red gash curled around her shoulders and neck like a scarf. A bracelet of fishing rope hung around her front flipper.
She was first spotted by the fish plant workers who speculated that she’d been hit by the propeller of a boat. But as the story circulated around the kitchen tables of the town, eventually an account surfaced of a local fisherman who found this very sea lion caught in a crab trap. He’d cut her out of it, and she’d been too exhausted to put up a fuss. She slipped away as soon as she was free from the crab trap, before he could cut the rope off her flipper. When she threw her bulk up on the fish plant’s dock, the workers were sure she’d crawled ashore to die.
But she didn’t die. Kat & I have been watching her heal up, and when last we saw her, the angry red scarf she wore had faded to a whitish-pink. Soon it’ll be just another scar criss-crossing her tough hide.
Another battle-scarred gal made an appearance today.
I’d started to see her around our house in the spring; a heavily pregnant deer with an old yet clearly distinctive, nasty-looking scar of parallel claw-marks down her flank. She was so awkwardly top-heavy, I could almost hear her groan as she slowly, achingly, staggered across the street and down a hill to access some shelter and better grazing. Every time I saw her she seemed to get bigger and slower. She disappeared for a while and I haven’t seen her in months.
Today, I saw her again. She was walking lightly and purposefully, looking quite transformed from the heavy, tired looking animal I’d seen in the spring. I am only sure it was her because of that long scar on her flank, proof that she’d survived much more than a tough pregnancy. There, tailing her, were twin fawns, their spotted coats almost completely faded into the dun colour of all black-tailed deer.
The sight of her and her babies made me think of the scarred female sea lion. I haven’t seen her in a couple of weeks. I suspect she’s been turfed out from under the fish plant by the huge males who have returned now after a two-month long journey to the breeding grounds. Kat and I were eating dinner when a the fierce, belligerent roar of one of the males interrupted our conversation. I swear the sound shook our windows. There’s a reason they’re called “lions”. If one of those fellows told me to get outta town, I’d go.
I don’t know where the female went, or if we’ll ever see her again. Maybe she’ll make it to the breeding grounds next year and have a pup of her own, a brand-new, perfect baby to waddle after its battle-scarred mother. Maybe that pup will live long enough to earn itself a scarred hide of its own.