Archive for April, 2013


Monday, April 22nd, 2013

We were just in Monterey for 4 days, which, yeah, lovely but touristy and not terribly interesting.


Unless you go kayaking with sea otters, sea lions, and seals in Elkhorn Slough. Then it is magical and mind-blowing and not quite capturable in blog language.

But I’ll try.

Here’s one thing about kayaking: You are very close to the water. You are practically IN the water, except you’re not getting wet. It’s an intimate experience, and when you’re out in the middle of a big slough, with tides and wind and whatnot, it’s both vulnerable and thrilling. When a seal pops up and says hello, you want to scream with pleasure. (“Try not to scream,” our orientation leader said.)

The place where you launch is just a short paddle away from a beach where harbor seals are hauled out, and your first move is to speed across the shipping lane, straight over to them. So, there you are, in a kayak, yards away from the beach. And there they are, resting on the beach, some of them nearly in the water. Let me say that again: You are there. They—blorpy, calm, speckled silver—are there. You are on the same level, yards away, in their habitat. Did you know you could get so close to seals?* And they wouldn’t seem to mind?

*You’re supposed to maintain a polite, non-harrassing distance. We tried (hard) and generally succeeded. But at this particular moment, the wide arc around the shipping lane pretty much put us in the seals’ laps.

Then you swing by a group of male sea otters, rolling gracefully in the water or resting on their backs, hands and flippers up. I love, love, LOVE sea otters, and there are only about 2700 of them on the California coast. It’s breathtaking to see any, let alone 30. I know they’re wild animals with sharp claws and teeth that can rip into hardshell crabs, but DAMN if they aren’t heart-meltingly cute. (I apologize to naturalists who hate this approach to wildlife. I can’t help it.)

After you pass the otters, you swing left into the Slough, at which point you circumvent a pier where the sea lions like to haul out and rest in the sun. Problem: There are too many of them to fit. Charmingly, they just pile on top of each other in a massive sea lion blanket and attempt to make the best of it. This goes reasonably well until a new one swims up and starts mounting the pile, and everybody affected throws his/her head back and starts barking, and half the pier is suddenly a roiling mess, until they calm down again.

Okay, but. We learned from a volunteer at the site that there’s one sea lion who hauls out there who is a different species, called a stellar sea lion. And this dude is about 15 TIMES the size of the others. It’s like the difference between a cocker spaniel and a young elephant. The first time we saw the stellar otter, he was lying on the pier already, and all of the other sea lions were basically piled around him, except for one intrepid youngster who kept trying (and failing) to climb the Big Guy. That was Thursday, when we were just walking on shore. On Saturday when we went kayaking, the stellar sea lion wasn’t there—at least not when we paddled out.

When we paddled back in, we noticed a lot of commotion at the pier. There were sea lions everywhere in the water, splashing, porpoising, barking, and just generally making a ruckus. We didn’t understand it until we got close enough to see that the stellar sea lion had returned and commandeered the entire middle section of the pier. Everyone else had jumped off! And now they were in the water, clearly agitated (adorably so, I have to say), but not daring to go near the Big Dude.

“I guess in nature, size wins,” I said to John.

“Yeah,” he said. “But strength and sneakiness sometimes do, too.”

The water by the pier was shallow, and I watched as some of the smaller sea lions swam around and beneath our kayak. My heart was THRUMMING with excitement and with joy. Nellies, I know a lot of people have had this experience, but I’m here to testify: It is as remarkable as you think. To be in a wild animal’s habitat, and to have those animals carry on about their business right in front of you—well, it’s a gift. And in the case of the friendly seals, who like to pop up behind you and follow you, they actually seem to enjoy kayakers. Which is so playful and generous, I only wish there were some way to thank them that they could understand. Thank you, harbor seals! And thank you, all the animals in Elkhorn Slough. What a day of wild joy.

2 Books + Personal Tech Anxiety

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

I’m pretty boring when all I do is work. Some quick hits:

1) Middle Men, by Jim Gavin. (Full disclosure: He’s a friend of a friend.) I really liked it. Flawlessly written and always interesting, mainly about a character who can’t quite get himself off the ground. Sympathetic, heart-felt, smart. I’d be happy to ready plenty more like this.

2) Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan. I tend to hesitate before reading McEwan, I think because his books leave a sour taste. Then, when I finally begin the new one, I remember the brilliance and don’t mind the sourness. Genius! Truly and really and intensely! He writes so matter-of-factly and yet is always turning the screw. You keep finding yourself somewhere you didn’t expect to be and then notice, retrospectively, how carefully he has built his case. I bow down, Mr. McEwan. You are way, way cleverer than I am.

In other news, I have to switch computers, as this one is daily exhibiting ever more signs of impending collapse. I have the new computer; it’s been sitting in my office for weeks. Until this moment, I haven’t had the time to switch—and, now that I do, I’m terrified. How is everything that’s here going to get over there?

I need some kind of cloud-based miracle product that stores every single thing I have and syncs constantly—like, all my programs and bookmarks and settings and documents. That’s called . . . virtualization, right? (That’s a joke. I write ALL THE FREAKING TIME about virtualization for a particular client of mine.) Anyway, I need it. Probably I should get it. Soon.

But I hate spending money on complicated technical things that essentially just freak me out. Can’t I please just have stuffed animals and home d├ęcor and Nutella?