I Want to Be Left Behind

Tending to seal pups, one woman sees rapture on earth

  • Left Behind

    image by Greg Betza

  • Left Behind

“With 9/11, the blessed countdown for the Rapture has begun,” my neighbor George informed me almost casually.

He caught me off guard. After decades of giddily anticipating the end of the world and getting no response from me, most of the true believers in my family had stopped asking if I’m ready to be swept up in the Second Coming. Plus, this was the last place I expected to be proselytized. George and I sat perched on driftwood, keeping watch over a seal pup that had hauled up onto our backyard Salish Sea beach. Concrete walls barricade most Seattle city beaches, so natural beaches are precious to harbor seals, a place where they can give birth, nurse, rest. Every spring through September, mother seals leave their pups here while they fish. Staying 100 yards away as recommended by the National Marine Fisheries Service, we neighbors keep watch over the vulnerable pups in four-hour shifts. It’s a startling stretch of time to spend with people whom we usually whiz past in our busy lives.

“Hmmm,” I answered, hoping my neighbor would lapse into the companionable silence we usually enjoy while we’re seal sitting, as we call our beach communion. “Hand me the binoculars, will you?”

This pup was about two feet long, round and robust, its speckled fur camouflaged against the rocky beach. It was breathing regularly, with no discharge from its mouth or nose—all good signs, according to the expert on stranded marine mammals from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who trained us. We didn’t see any wounds, such as orca bites or propeller gashes. But only time would reveal its fate. If the pup is injured or doesn’t leave the beach after 48 hours, we call NOAA, which might send someone to take it to a rehab shelter for treatment. Though Washington has a thriving seal population, 50 percent of juveniles don’t survive the first year, and every seal season we witness the death of at least one or two pups.

There are 24 of us who patrol several beaches. We keep a phone tree and Internet contact, and when someone spots a lone pup, whoever is available heads out to keep watch. Our primary job is to politely shoo away dogs and curious people, partly because diseases are communicable among the three species. We also chat with passersby and educate them in seal etiquette. If the mother returns and finds her pup surrounded by too much human activity, she might abandon her baby.

“This pup looks plump and healthy, don’t you think?” I asked George.

Ien in the Kootenays
5/7/2008 12:00:00 AM

What a wonderful article. Any mystic worth her salt will agree that we are already there. "heaven", whatever.

Jeffery Biss
5/7/2008 12:00:00 AM

And when the rapture fails to happen, again, they will claim that "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." How convenient to have a ready excuse for things that won't happen not happen when you say they will.

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