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The Abalone and Sea Elephant Story


Dear Readers;

I know you are waiting for me to continue the story of how I hoodwinked the Army, so the that I could continue on my debaucherous road.  I promise part two, soon.

My friend Dianne Estrada Randazzo Brooke inspired me to publish this story in blog form this morning.  She posted pictures of elephant seals on her Facebook page, and I thought, “My friends!”  Then, I realized I never did share this story with the WordPress world.  So, today Abalone and Sea Elephants, soon, Drill Sergeants and a funny Chaplain.

    The rainstorm in January was harsh, and flooded Highway One.  We stayed home for days, and watched the dirt slide down the mountain, heading to the sea.  There were no hikes, no campfires, no searching for jade and abalone shells on the beach.  We hunkered down as sure as an East Coaster would during a blizzard.

Then, the sun finally broke through, and we stepped outside, like Dorothy into the Land of Oz.  The land looked newly washed, and hung out to dry.  I ventured to the café in the morning, having no work for several days, as no tourists were able to make their way through to our Mecca.  I spent the little money I had left on a Breakfast Burrito and coffee, and watched the Pacific Ocean churning through the picture window in front of the restaurant.  The whales had already passed by on their way to Alaska, but you could see dolphins playing if your eyes were young enough, and you knew what to look for.

Roger came through, scrounging for a cup of coffee, and asked if I wanted to go look for abalone.  The abalone adheres to the boulders, and you use a crowbar to pry them off.  When you take the abalone home, you pound it and soak it in milk and lemon, then lightly bread it and pan fry it.  At least, that’s the simple way I made it, and it’s really wonderful!  I used some white wine, lemon and garlic in the recipe.  It’s every bit as good as or even better than a Calamari Steak.

In light of the fact that I had not worked in some time, and the larders were low; and because of the sumptuousness of Abalone Steak, my stomach ruled that going to the beach for abalone was a sublime idea.  I did not, for one second, take into account that climbing the mountains up and down would be a tenuous journey, with loose dirt and boulders.

I soon discovered that fact, as we placed our first foot on the mountainside, and slid down five hundred feet to the beach.  It was alarming, but okay, no harm done, we were both fine.  The sun was shining, and we had all day.  We were quick to realize that the return trip would be arduous, if not impossible.  Therefore, we concocted a departure scenario which involved walking a mile down the beach to Willow Creek, where we thought the boulders might be a better climb than the dirt.

We spent a few warm and sunny hours on the beach, and I did find a few abalones. I was getting pretty excited about dinner that night, and turned to tell Roger about my finds.  However, Roger was nowhere in sight!  We were both so wrapped up in our hunt, and must have drifted apart!  I started to panic, as the sun was going to go down soon, and I was not thrilled with the prospect of ascending loose boulders by myself in the dark. I called for Roger, but he did not answer.  So, I made up my mind to begin the journey home.

The first half mile was simple enough, even pretty after the storm.  Then, in the distance, I saw a beach ahead, with a lot of seals.  I was scared.  I had just moved to California six months before, and had never seen anything like this, except by the Wharf in Monterey, but there were a lot of people around there, and I was far away from the animals.  On the beach heading towards Willow Creek, I was very alone, and very afraid.  I told myself I couldn’t let that fear show.  That’s what we have always been told, right?  Don’t let your fear show to animals.

So, I headed towards the seal beach, and as I approached, seagulls began circling me, and screaming a warning cry to the seals.  My eyesight was much better back then; the image on the beach began to become defined when I was within a few hundred feet.  I saw these were not the cute seals I had seen in Monterey.  No, these were huge seals, and they had a strange snout which looked like a trunk hanging down their faces; and there were five hundred of them at least, covering an entire beach.

Now, petrified, I started to shake uncontrollably.  I gave myself a pep talk.  “Stop showing fear!  They’ll see you, and who knows what will happen!”  I had no idea what these animals were, although I could see they were some sort of seal, or walrus, or…?  I did not know if they were peaceful, or territorial.  I didn’t know much about aquatic life at that time. I was a twenty-one year old East Coast transplant with no historical knowledge of the Pacific Ocean, or its’ life forms.  I was about to jump out of my skin, I was so scared.  Eleven years later I was in labor, and high from a penthrox whistle.  I told the nurse, “I changed my mind.”  She said, “Honey, you can’t change your mind now.”  This was the precursor to that moment.  There was nowhere else to go but straight through these beasts!

So, I steeled my mind as well as I could.  Of course, my body refused to follow suit, no matter how hard I tried to control it.  I thought my knees would buckle, and they would eat me for lunch.  The seagulls were still screaming their warnings, “Stranger! Stranger!  HUMAN stranger!” and the seals began to take notice.  I had now reached the edge of their beach, and I was already scouring the scene for an escape.  Somehow, I remembered, ‘the shortest distance between two points is a straight line’, so I made a straight beeline; but to where?

The largest seal, the one with the longest snout, the one I presumed to be the leader, started to move towards me.  He was about one thousand pounds, but moved quicker than I thought he would.  His posse followed closely behind, like they were his back up.  When it came to a war between a thousand pound bully seal, and a twenty-one year old Yankee human, he really didn’t require assistance, but they couldn’t be too sure.  I guess they had not encountered many of my kind, either.   He was frothing at the mouth.  My mouth was dry and panting.

At the other end of the beach, there were seals blocking my passage.  There really was nowhere to go.  I was trapped.  The only other way out was a two hundred foot shale wall, which I was sure I would never be able to climb.  I knew I couldn’t, but I knew I had no choice but to try.   I did not start to run.   I figured they could not move as quickly as I could, but I could always be wrong.   I was in the midst of them, and felt it would not be hard for them to reach out and eat someone…me.  How did I know if they liked People Food?

As I reached the wall, I summoned all my courage, and made a jump for the wall, landing and digging my crowbar into the wall.  I moved as quickly as possible; and somehow, through sheer adrenaline and terror, I dug my way to the top.   I made it!  I felt so relieved, so tired, so emotional.  I was at the top!  I held the edge with one hand, and with the other, I threw the crowbar onto the top of the hill.  Or, I thought I threw the crowbar onto the top.  I actually threw it over the top, because this particular wall was only about three feet wide.  I grabbed a hold of the top with both hands, pulled myself up, and hoisted my body over the side, landing on the beach again on the other side.  Looking back, this wall obviously could not have been two hundred feet tall, as I landed in the sand with only minor pain.  It must have been much shorter, but at the moment of ascent, I was just sure it was a way out.  I was so disappointed to discover that I was wrong.

The seals stayed on their beach, though.  They did not try to come around to get me.  They didn’t want to eat me; they just wanted me off of their beach.  So, I was still somewhat relieved, as at least I was past that catastrophe waiting to happen.  Now, to get off the beach, and back home!  I walked another half mile with no further incidents, but the sun had begun to go down, and I was getting worried.

I was glad when I saw the Willow Creek boulders coming closer into view, and excited to climb my way home.  But, as I approached the boulders, I became trepidatious about climbing them.  It only took elementary logic to reason that due to the storm, those rocks would have shifted, and it could be a precarious and dangerous feat to climb my way out.

As I stood at the base of the rocks, and looked up, I also looked down at the churning ocean, bashing against the boulders in the water.  I could skip climbing up this rock hill, and go around it in the ocean, walking another mile to the beach where there’s a driveway up the mountain.  I started picturing the worst outcomes of each plan.  Going up the rocks, I could be crushed to death.  Walking through the ocean, I could be swept out sea.

Suddenly, a whale of a wave, freakishly immense, arose quickly and came crashing down on me, sweeping me out into the open sea.  It was so quick, I had no time to panic until I was already there, being bashed between boulders, head and shoulder and hip to rock.  I grabbed each one for dear life, only to be ripped violently away each time, and thrown against the one next to it.

Of course, I was praying.  “Dear Lord, Oh Lord.  My mother is sick, Lord.  I am so young.  This would kill her.  Please don’t make my mother suffer by my dying, Lord.  A child should never die before their mother, especially when their poor mother is sick.”  That didn’t seem to impress our Maker, as He ignored my pleas, and let me continue to be battered by Nature.

“Dear Lord, Oh Lord.  I know I haven’t been a good person.  I know I have done drugs and drank too much.  I know I never go to church.  I know I curse.  Oh Lord, if you let me get out of here, I promise I will go to church every Sunday, and never curse or carry on again.  Lord, hear my plea, and help me get out of here.”  Again, God just pretended I wasn’t talking, and I started to panic.  God didn’t care!  I was going to die, and no one even knew I was here!  I was crying and fighting the current, and hanging on each time I was smashed against the next boulder.

Then, after about fifteen minutes of torture, I got tired.  I got very, very tired.   I stopped praying, and stopped fighting.  I thought, “Okay Lord, if this is the way you want it to be, then there’s nothing I can do about it.  Obviously, this is it.  Please let my Mom know I love her.”  Then, I began to drift.  Off to sleep, and out to sea.  My mind and body  relaxed.  All the panic and urgency were gone.  I surrendered to death.  I accepted my fate.  I passed out.

I woke up on the beach, and realized I was alive!  I began sucking in breath…beautiful, wonderful air.  I didn’t die!  I was laughing like a crazy person.  I couldn’t  believe I had survived.  All of a sudden, Roger came strolling up to towards where I was lying.  He was looking at me as if I were a conch shell he discovered on the beach, like he was thinking, “interesting, maybe I’ll pick it up.”  He came to a stop right next to me, and said, “Oh, there you are.  I was looking for you.”

I was lying there, sopping wet, seaweed strewn over me, sputtering for my breath, with bumps and bruises covering my head and body, and he said, “Oh.”  I didn’t say anything, I didn’t even ask how he got there.  I got up, and followed him off the beach I had landed on, the beach where he found me.  We easily clawed our way through the sandy dirt to the top, to the road, to Highway One.    We went to his friend’s trailer, where we drank Hobo Coffee, and I regaled them with my story of terror.

When I returned home, I recounted my tale as a religious experience.  Of course, I was laughed at so many times.  This was Big Sur, and the only thing atypical about my adventure is that I lived through it.  Once my story was out, I was told of so many people in similar situations who were swallowed by the Pacific Ocean, never to be seen again.

It has now been thirty-one years since this event occurred.  I still think of it often, and I am still grateful that I received a second chance.  Unfortunately, I broke all the promises I made in the sea.  I continued on the path of addiction and dangerous behavior, and had many life threatening experiences.  I am grateful for having survived not only my ocean adventure, but all the dangerous situations I put myself into.  The reason this one resonates with me so much, though, is that I danced with Nature.  I learned to respect the power and awesome brutality as well as the beauty of Nature.  I have been intimate with her.