The Cambrian

Your Turn: My catastrophic molt

I posted myself at the south end of the Piedras Blancas boardwalk when I arrived for my volunteer docent duty yesterday. It harbored a dozen or more elephant seals in various stages of molt. This made it easier to show to the human visitors what is going on with the seals.

A female seal’s molt was evident—chunks of brown fur had fallen from her face leaving a bright and silvery appearance. The liberation from old and tired had begun. Her huge round eyes peered at me. A simpatico sense cloaked me.

The spring winds rippled the teal sea and stung my face with salty air. A gopher snake slithered inches from my feet.

Normally I would jolt away from the harmless reptiles. My skin would crawl like a thousand snakes wriggling en masse under my flesh. But that didn’t happen. I knew if I left it that the visiting humans might harm or disturb them.

A young couple—he tall and handsome, she exquisite —and their active 3-year-old son sauntered down the bluff-top boardwalk. The snake was inches from them, so I gave the family warning. The boy wanted to touch the snakes. His father said no.

“Would you like to touch some elephant seal fur?” I asked the child.

From her motorized wheelchair, the boy’s mother tilted her face up at me and said, “I’d love to touch it.” Her left wrist twisted like an old oak root, but she lifted her manicured fingers to touch the fur, and encouraged her son to touch the

... like the seal when its molt has completed and

it must return to the sea, and then confront those that wish to consume it, there is no other

choice but to outwit, out think, or simply out swim the predators.

fur. The boy said the underside of the fur felt like the Velcro on his safari-style pants.

He climbed up the boardwalk railing and asked, “Are you old?” His mother, coiffed and made up, opened her eyes wide and exclaimed, “Josh, that’s a wrong question!”

I laughed and answered, “Yes, I am old. I like being old.”

“Why?” he queried.

“Because I know things now that I never knew before.” I twirled my silver locks between my fingers and added, “My hair is silver now, like that seal sleeping in the sun. It is new to me and it means that I am moving forward.”

I sensed relief from his mother, and we returned to pointing out seals in various stages of molt.

She shivered in the wind. Her husband wrapped his jacket around her thin shoulders. He suggested that it was time to move on. “I don’t want you to get a chill,” he reminded her as she watched her son absorb all that was happening on the windy bluffs.

It’s these tiny vignettes that stick inside of me. They’re minute tales worthy of a novel that I would have never read before I began my catastrophic molt.

Sometimes it frightens me because as the dead epidermis and old hair falls, my new silver hair absorbs a fresh view and understanding of life’s elements. It’s not glorious enlightenment because there are some life elements that I’d rather not perceive. But like the seal when its molt has completed and it must return to the sea, and then confront those that wish to consume it, there is no other choice but to outwit, out think, or simply out swim the predators.

There will always be those who consume more than they need. This is the difference with being human as opposed to being a seal that dodges sharks or killer whales that consume just what they need.

I wish that we were more like gopher snakes or sharks that hunt only what they need.

Today I felt solidarity with the molting mammals of the sea. My life’s mission slowly exposes itself during my personal catastrophic molt.

Charmaine Coimbra wrote a weekly column during her newspaper days with the Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale. She served as both assistant editor, feature writer and photographer. She also freelanced and landed front page features in the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee and Fresno Bee. The subject matter included whales, candy makers, exploring old mines, people and raising children. She can be reached at antafemotherblogger@live.com

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