The Harbor Seal and the Great Blue Heron
— a poem and photos by Chris Tellis, Yellow Ferry Harbor —
On a grey-green boat on a blue-green bay
A brown harbor seal considered his day.
Perhaps a short swim, then a nap in the sun
He hauled out with ease, his one quarter ton.
At eleven and three, a nice meal of herring
Consumed all alone — he was not into sharing.
For if truth be told, crowds held no appeal
He thrived on his image, the Lonesome Brown Seal.
Piles of pinnipeds, he found quite revolting
He hated the beach with the masses all moulting.
And don’t go downwind, you might get a whiff
It smelled so much better on his small bobbing skiff.
His perch was a hull from a dreamer disrupted,
A boat-building project that got interrupted.
Some decades long past, the shipwright long gone
He’d left for Bangkok, or was it Bhutan?
The hull left behind was really quite handsome.
The seal was fond of the generous transom.
Amidships the hull had a wide-open cockpit
Where one day there landed a neighbor quite unfit.
Though seals know blubber is where it is at
This new interloper had scant body fat.
He lay on his transom and could not help starin’
For looking right back, was a five-foot blue heron.
He hoped his blank stare showed he was not amused.
Unwelcome intrusions could not be excused.
His hermit existence bred no social skills.
He was lost making small talk to big birds with bills.
For several long minutes, they said not a word.
What’s there to say to a gate-crashing bird?
It suited the seal to be introverted,
Which is why the small skiff was remote and deserted.
He most loved to sleep and lay in a daze — he
Never did boat keeping, was totally lazy.
From years of neglect, his boat was a mess.
The heron, it seemed, could not care less.
The concerns of this seal did not pique her interest
She turned to the Bay with total indifference.
Tall and erect, she engaged the horizon.
The contrast between them was hardly surprising.
She was slim and erect and light as a feather
He weighed 500 pounds and was used to cold weather.
She liked to stand tall, he liked to lay flat.
She minded her figure, he was hairy and fat.
With little in common except for their shyness
They floated together in perpetual silence.
The days turned to weeks and the couple stayed shy
Though he might steal a glance from a half-lidded eye.
They slowly grew used to cohabitation
But decorum required there be no flirtation.
Yet frankly he liked the fact she was slim
And she rather liked the way he could swim.
They both liked to nap in the warm afternoon;
They both liked to read by the light of the moon.
Then late in the fall he looked all around
And noticed the heron was not to be found.
He considered the reasons, one after the other,
Perhaps she had gone to visit her mother?
A fortnight elapsed, it was then that he feared.
The slender Blue Heron had just disappeared.
Was there some other? — So odd to be jealous.
He scoured the sites that a heron would relish.
From Waldo to Crockett, he combed all the marshes,
The derelict boats, the broken down barges.
He found her at last, washed up near Mare Island.
She was frozen and shivering and terribly frightened.
After days without food, she was fatally weak.
A thick fishing line was wrapped ’round her beak.
She lay on her side, her pain clearly visible.
He had to act fast. Her condition was critical.
He cradled her head and began to work purposely.
Who knew those thick flippers could do such beak surgery?
His teeth cut the bindings and saved her from death.
He inhaled while working to spare her fish-breath.
Driven by love and not out of charity,
His flippers unwound the cord with dexterity.
And after tense minutes the unraveling done,
She blinked her eyes slowly, sat up in the sun.
Slowly and carefully they swan home together
Clutching each other with flipper and feather.
Later they lay on the small blue-green boat
And gazed at the moon, while rocking afloat.
She rolled to her side and used her sweet beak.
To lovingly comb the brown fur on his cheek
Then Bufflehead, Pelican, Mallard and Coot
Acknowledged this marriage was beyond dispute.
For Richardson’s Bay shall never be barren
If romance can foster twixt seal and heron.
This new-year begins with a lump in my throat
For they’re making it work on the small bobbing boat.