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Creek Running North

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July 27, 2004

Gleaning the brine

My brother’s been staying with us for a week, and he’s been sick much of that time, and then so was I. But we did manage to get out on Sunday.

We went to Muir Woods, hiked a couple or five miles uphill and down with phlegm-laden lungs, and then headed for the coast.

Bolinas Lagoon was a sheet of gray beneath blue sky. The tide was out. Hoary harbor seals lay immobile on the mudflats, rounded driftwood-seeming things coated with a rime of salty fur. Every now and then, they would curl a flipper or crane a neck, startling people who’d just pulled off Route 1 to look at the birds. "That thing’s alive!"

In the deeper tidal channel, half a dozen gawky seal pups swam splashing one another, now ducking silently beneath the meniscus of algae, now sneezing re-entry into the atmosphere. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of brown pelicans – the most I’d ever seen at once – met on a bar beyond. At any one moment, a tenth of them were shaking their wings. It sounded as if a freight train was bearing down upon us.

Becky probed the shallows, watching the feathery rakes of barnacles gleaning the brine. She puzzled at clouds of silt erupted from shallow holes.

All at once, the clamor started, and the seals went under. A cloud of terns flew nearby, diving into the water. The pelicans followed, and then the cormorants and egrets: a torrent of birds after the fish we could only infer.

And as quickly they were gone, and we headed north up the coast past Olema, along the floor of the rift valley where the San Andreas Fault glances back onto the Marin coast before veering again seaward.

Posted by Chris Clarke at July 27, 2004 04:01 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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We don't have much salt in the air, these parts. Thanks for letting me taste it on my lips. Hug a seal for me!

Posted by: fred1st at July 27, 2004 05:53 PM
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My experiences on teh coast of California have been few, but memorable - such as a hike out to see elephant seals in their preserve. Thanks for this vivid description, Chris.

Posted by: beth at July 28, 2004 05:50 PM
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Speaking of phlegm... have you ever been sneezed on by a whale? Off the coast of Boston, in the Stellwagon Banks, a humpback once sidled up to the side of the boat I was teetering in, settled his chin on the gunwhale (ironic word), and let out a blast of green-flecked mortification that plastered half the gawkers staring down at him. And the smell! Krill, brine, plankton, sardines, and morning breath all generously concocted into an aerosol cannon. I wonder if he was just saying hello, or having his morning laugh?

Posted by: butuki at July 31, 2004 10:42 PM
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