I was in the middle of a deep discussion, when out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention. When I looked in that direction, all I saw was the black rocks at the waterline and the waves swirling around the beach. I resumed chatting with the gentleman who was sitting beside me, and in a few moments, from the same direction, something again caught my eye. Looking up, I saw nothing more than what I had seen before.
It happened again. Still nothing. The fourth time, my companion having noticed my being distracted, stopped talking as I said “I think there’s something out there”. He laughed and said “yes, they are called waves.” As I looked more closely I saw that one of the black rocks seemed to be slowly moving. It was. Towards us. Directly towards us.
Now, having lived in the south for the last 15 years, and not too long ago having taken a Louisiana bayou boat tour, I’ve been biased to believe that if something is coming out of the water towards me, it is probably not a good thing. Think Alligator. At least that’s what my reptilian brain decided.
Not being one of those people who tends to shriek at such moments (nor my buddy either) we watched amazed and transfixed as this huge shape came closer and closer to us. It moved out of the water and up the beach, straight towards us. I looked around to see where we might go, but we were pretty hemmed in.
As this huge monster came upon us, I said with some relief, “It’s a monk seal!!!” If you hadn’t guessed by that clue, we were in Hawaii, sitting on an isolated beach. Up to that moment I had been actually “working” with a client. (Office space opportunities are limitless, awesome and cheap, once you get there).
It finally stopped coming towards us when it was no more than 10 feet away. Chin on the ground. It blinked, seemed to smile and just lay there staring at us.
My next thought was that we needed to give this seal its space, so quietly I said to my friend, “we need to back up slowly because we’re not allowed to be this close to these endangered animals”. So, we slowly butt scooted, backing away from the sea lion. When we quit moving, she began moving again. Towards us, quickly closing the distance that we had just created, until we were 10 feet away again.
I was already making up the excuses I would make as the sea lion patrol was hauling us away to jail. “But, she kept chasing us!"
So, there we were. The three of us just sitting there staring at each other. Each seemingly transfixed by what we were experiencing of each other.
This huge mammal seemed almost childlike. Unaware of or unable to recognize the inherent danger that we humans represented to her, or knowing and just not caring. As I stared at her, I noticed her face was childlike and innocent. The mood and the moment spoke of gentleness, lightness, playfulness and spontaneity.
I shifted my attention to its massive size. I imagined how crushing its own body weight must be out of the water, and guessed that if I weighed that much, I, too, would most likely have to crawl to move such a ponderous body. I sensed vulnerability. Being out of its primary element, the sea, in an unfamiliar world, where almost anything was a predator.
In situations like this, where I am overwhelmed by something of nature, I typically wonder “what gift or message am I getting with this experience?” “What lesson am I supposed to learn from this?”
Something different happened this time. I had a sense that this creature of nature was wanting, needing, asking something of us. And what might that be? Something more than what the beach by itself apparently provided.
Safety? A place to rest? Recognition? Protection? Understanding? Meaning? Acceptance? Connection with us, another of nature’s creations?
As she rested, never taking her eyes off us, we did provide that. Warning those who came by to keep their distance. Eventually she apparently “got” what she needed, and began making her way back into the sea. At the water’s edge, she turned her head and looked back at us one more time, as if to say, “thanks”.
For the first time in my life I got a sense that this “nature” thing might just be a two-way relationship. Perhaps manifestations of nature might need me and what I can offer, as much as I need them. That they get as much from me as I get from them. That we need each other. Giving as we receive.
I later told the story of my encounter to a Native Hawaiian. He talked of his own experience with a giant sea turtle when he was diving. The turtle had approached him, looking directly into his eyes, nudging his hand as if asking to be petted. He spoke of the minutes he spent lovingly stroking the turtle’s belly that she so freely offered him.
My revelation that perhaps nature needs us didn’t come as news to him. He said “Everyone who knows, knows that.” Still so much for me to learn and so little time.
(P.S. And, I am glad that my friend was with me, otherwise people might think I was making all this up)