Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Seal at Newquay harbour

Wednesday October 17, 2007:

I had demanded seals as part of this pilgrimage to West Cornwall. A busy little northerly wind snapped at us as we walked along the quay in search of them. As we picked our way past ropes and cables, the reek of rotting lobster pounced and momentarily, I gagged.

Seals were often to be found at Newquay Harbour. They followed the boats in, hanging out for fish that might fall when being unloaded. There was even a notice reminding the public that seals were in fact wild animals and that getting too close might not be a good idea.

We sat down on a bench and waited, my companion scanning the water for any signs of seals. The wind got up, biting at hands, ears and noses, but still no seals. The sun moved round, darkness was approaching. We decided to leave and made our way disappointedly back down the quay.

Two fishermen standing on the edge of the quay were talking of the seals. One had just come into the harbour, they informed us. WE ran back to our vantage point, but no, nothing there. Turning away to leave, my companion cried out suddenly. She had seen him. We returned hastily to the waters edge.

Some thirty feet away, a single young adult moved in the water. He dived down becoming a grey shadow under the smooth surface and then he popped up again, this time with a distinct splash. My companion began to sing a gentle, mournful eulogy to the seal.

As though he had heard, he came closer, lying on his side and flapping his flipper, rolling over noisily, dipping his head into the water and bringing it up with a splash and a bubbling snort. He rolled over and the water moved with him, rippling with every move he made.

I listened as he displayed himself. My companion described the scene, the seal seeming to accompany her narrative with sound effects of his own – although of course it was the other way round!

He didn’t seem to be looking for dinner, just hanging out in a peaceful harbour. He seemed to revel in the attention of the admiring onlookers.

And I couldn’t help smiling. The seal, symbol of so much sadness, is also a playful creature. Lumbering on land, he is full of grace in the water. Today, he was content to play and my heart was warmed by his presence, even if I could only hear him. And perhaps, since seals are normally quiet, he was noisy in honour of me? I like to think so.

The seal turned once more and with another noisy splash dived down and disappeared. We turned and walked away, my wish fulfilled. The harbour was full of the spirit of the seal. I was happy.

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