At the end of 2013, I went back and reviewed all the images in my “daily” art journal to come up with a summary of what my life was for the year. A short version of this article was sent out with a holiday card. I hope you enjoy it!
“Once you start taking an interest in the little things, the world suddenly becomes immense.” Ernst Junger
One time I read that professors & doctors often have deep grove lines on their foreheads because every time they learn something, it causes their eyebrows to raise in surprise. If this is true, then my forehead will be like an eroded canyon wall in the coming years. There is so much to learn about. The world is filled with so many wondrous things. Often when studying a subject, I paint sketches of the subject in both watercolors and Japanese brush painting. This year my interest was captured by the study of ocean waves and seaweeds. I also became fascinated by clouds in our San Diego skies. We don’t often have clouds so seeing them is unusual. One rainy day I followed the clouds in the sky starting at the beach, moving to the top of a mountain, then driving inland and finally at sunset returning to the beach to observe how they changed throughout the day. While reading a weather book to find out the types of clouds and put names to them, I discovered a certain cloud formation is known as a mackerel sky because the clouds resemble fish scales!
“Smell the sea & feel the sky. Let your soul & spirit fly.” Van Morrison
I am still very passionate about the California harbor seals, especially after observing them giving birth to their 25 pound babies during the pupping season, which in San Diego is February through the end of April. 38 pups were born in 2013. Seeing the affection and care mothers give their pups touches my heart & soul. Watching pups catch piggyback rides on mom’s back when they get too tired to swim on their own, watching them touch noses to recognize each other, seeing a mother putting a flipper protectively over the back of her pup as they sleep in a shallow tide pool, watching an exhausted mother trying to come up onto the beach to rest, yet turning around and following her pup who just wants to play in the sea, I feel the harbor seal mother is just like every other mother in the world. Harbor seals nurse their pups for a short 4-6 weeks and during that time their little pup balloons up to be fat little seals. It’s like you can see the weight of the mother transfer directly to the pup, which is nature’s way of protecting the pups during the transition of being nursed by mom and having to feed themselves. Pups can swim instantly after they are born and they rocket through the water. Now those pups born last February thru April are thriving. I watch them in the water sticking their small faces out of the water twirling their little front flippers to stay afloat in the water and they are like little magical water sprites.
“…life delights in life.” – William Blake
Every day is brand new day to see something different in nature. One early morning I watched as the sea lions slid down the bluff to the ocean and it was just like they were on a kid’s sliding board. I laughed and laughed. Sea lions are so humorous and clown-like. They just walk over each other and sleep together in huge sea-lion heaps on the bluffs. Sea lions can sleep or rest in the water and do so in groups by sticking up an arm flipper or a tail flipper, which float above the ocean like black sails. People sometimes think these are shark fins! When sea lions do this it is called “rafting”. I have been on a boat 9 miles out to sea and see the sea lions “rafting” together. It is fascinating to know that they are able to rest even if there is no land around to get out of the water. Nature is marvelous.
San Diego lobster season is from December to March and there are lobster trap buoys everywhere off shore. One early morning, I watched the lobster boats hauling up lobster traps and I could see one giant 500 pound male sea lion following the boat from trap to trap and then sticking his head up to beg for leftover bait fish. The fishermen complied and the sea lion had an easy work-free meal. Sometimes sea lions get wrapped up and trapped in fishing line, which they cannot get free from. The line tightens and cuts into their flesh and can not only hurt them, but be terminal unless they can be rescued. The mooching sea lion may have been clever, but he also was doing something that could cause him harm.
Normally sea lion mother’s care for their young for the first year, but this past year California young sea lions have, for no known reason, been abandoned by their mothers and have been too young to take care of themselves. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a federal agency declared a federal emergency for the sea lions and allotted funds to volunteer organizations to rescue the starving baby sea lions. Scientists speculated that ocean currents changed causing the fish
the sea lions to feed on to swim at a deeper depth, which led to mothers not being able to get enough food for themselves and to abandon their babies. The ways of nature can be harsh sometimes. These 6 to 8 month-old starving young sea lions showed up everywhere up and down the California coast line. Sometimes they even navigated stairs and ended up in roads or on hotel beach chairs. It was really tragic to see how bone-thin they were. Many of them came to the beach where the harbor seals live and our hearts would break to see them. They clearly were desperate and seeking help. When a sea lion was on a beach alone or away from the herd SeaWorld would come to rescue them. The lesson for me when seeing injured seals and sea lions rescued is that no matter how ill or injured they are, they will bite and claw to fight to get away . Even though these animals look so cute, they are have very dangerous bites and can move much more quickly than one would think. Many lucky sea lions were able to be fed and treated and SeaWorld then tagged them and they were released back to the sea. It is heartening now to occasionally see a sea lion with a tag in their tail and know that they have been given another chance to live. Thank goodness the starvation of these babies finally ended. I hope that the sea lion pupping season this year goes smoothly and the babies thrive.
I have had many opportunities this year to view SeaWorld rescues of sea lions, harbor seals and one day even a young elephant seal! It was the first time I had ever seen an elephant seal and when I saw him on the beach by himself, I did a double-take because he clearly wasn’t one of our local harbor or sea lion seals. It turned out that this juvenile elephant seal swam hundreds of miles, beached himself and then proceeded to use his flippers to cover himself with sand and go to sleep because he was exhausted. Elephant Seals have such huge puppy-dog eyes, black spikey whiskers and a tiny flipped up nose. They are adorable. SeaWorld was called and they sent out a rescue team. The elephant seal was determined to be dehydrated and tired. This baby elephant seal weighed 175 pounds and seeing the SeaWorld rescue of him as he tried to bite them was amazing. SeaWorld rehydrated the elephant seal and then released him back in the ocean where he belonged.
Recently two juvenile elephant seals showed up to “vacation” with the harbor seals. SeaWorld came out and observed them and we were told that they had just been weaned by their mothers and due to blubber stores, could go a month without eating and that they were fine. The elephant seals were migrating from Northern California to Mexico, when they just must have gotten tired and stopped to rest. They have been here in San Diego for 2 weeks now, yawning, sleeping and covering themselves with sand, sleeping right next to the harbor seals. When they go for a quick swim in the ocean, the harbor seal pups go with them and seem delighted in their new-found friends. Upon arriving early mornings at the beach and seeing the two 200 pound elephant seals stretched out on the beach snoozing together, I can’t help but think of mermaids from the sea.
Walking at the beach early in the morning or just before sunset is a wonderful time to observe California Brown Pelicans soaring inches above the waves or flying in v-formation high overhead. One evening after sunset, the moon rose in the eastern sky and pelicans dived in the moon-lit water for fish as a group of harbor seals slept peacefully nearby on the beach. Black iridescent-feathered cormorants ride the waves and fly in great waves of birds as they head home to the bluffs for the night. Yellow-footed Snowy Egrets fish in the shallow tide pools at low tide. Great Blue Herons stand regally at the edge of the bay and build giant nests in majestic Torrey Pine trees where they will raise their young. Sea gulls nest at the edge of the bluffs and their babies quickly grow and jump up and down as they can’t wait to fly. All of the birds fill San Diego skies with grace and beauty.
Pregnant gray whales migrating south in December to give birth to their babies in Mexico can be seen from the shore. The gray whales “blow” showing pink at sunset. In the spring the gray whales migrate north with their babies. Great blue whales also migrate south and then north, but they stay 10 miles or more out to sea. Going out on a boat and spying the ice-blue shadow under the water of a great blue whale is truly remarkable.
As a person who cares about San Diego wildlife, I spend time talking to visitors who come to San Diego and I’m happy to share information about the marine mammals, shore birds,tide pool life and the changing tides of the ocean. I hope that by conveying my love and respect for the ocean and wild life that other people will realize the importance of protecting our environment.
“I carry this beauty in my heart. “
On my birthday I went out on a whale watching boat and a colony of 300 plus common dolphins swam alongside our boat for a long time. I will never forget seeing the baby dolphins, the dolphins feeding on bait fish and the groups of them leaping out of the water together as if they were dancing for joy. It was a true celebration of how beautiful the world really is. All of the time. Every day, every night. Even when I’m not there to see it. The world is beautiful. & all I can say is that I will always carry this beauty in my heart every moment for the rest of my days.
Nature is also in our backyards. Because there is no creature on earth I don’t love, I keep ceramic bowls of water on my patio for all the birds and other wild life. It creates a sort of domestic “watering hole” and draws many animals to this water source. I have been feeding a black feral cat for more than two years. Finally the cat will meow at me and trust me enough to touch his nose to my finger when I hold out my hand. In spring a fledged baby blue jay fell into the water container and almost drowned, but the mother jay was shrieking so loudly that I went to look and was able to rescue the young jay out of the water. The little bird sat and dried for a few hours and the mother jay continued to feed her baby. After a few hours they were on their way. To build her nest, a sparrow was taking the soft downy fibers from a window screen upstairs and she ended up trapped inside the apartment. I was able to catch the mother sparrow in a dish towel and release her. The mother sparrow flew away like the wind and I bet her nest was quite sublime. Opossums who visit are my volunteer “gardeners” as they eat all the snails and slugs from my patio. The wily raccoons will steal any cat chow left out after dark and sometimes will just sit on his haunches in front of my wrought iron screen door and give me a look that says “I know you have more cat chow in there & I’m waiting.” Recently a raccoon arrived at 2 a.m. with two fuzzy babies who cavorted around as if they were puppies. Now I have a raccoon with one baby who is growing so fast. I love putting out cat chow and watching them eat it piece by piece and then wash their hands. The baby enjoys sloshing around in the water bowl as if it was a pond, while mom waits impatiently to move on. I’ve also seen the baby trying to climb up onto the patio chair. So mischievous! & then the two of them scurry off into the night. I am grateful to know that wild life is all around us.
“These are the days of miracle & wonder.” – Paul Simon
Fairy lights wind around palm trees, there is crispness to the winter breeze and the seasons change here to a San Diego winter, which is still very beautiful and filled with new opportunities for delight & wonder. I hope that you, too, will have a New Year filled with love, joy, happiness & peace.