by Michael Foreman
One day in early spring an old man and his grandson, Ben, carefully climbed down to a rocky beach. They were looking for mussels. As Ben searched he noticed a slight movement among the rocks. Then he saw the seal. It was difficult to see her body against the rocks, except for a smudge of red on her belly.
“Look, Granddad!” Ben cried. “The seal is injured.” “Don’t get too close,” warned Granddad. They watched the seal from a distance.
The seal looked quite calm, lying still in the morning sun, and after a while Ben started hunting for mussels again. When he next looked up at the seal, he saw a flash of white. A newly born seal pup nuzzled her mother. “Quick, Granddad,” whispered Ben. “Let’s get some fish for the seals.”
As the spring days lengthened, Ben and his granddad often watched the seal family from the cliff top. The pup’s white coat molted and she become the color of the rocks. Sometimes she moved to the water’s edge to watch her mother fish. As she basked in the warm sun, she kept an eye on Ben and his granddad.
In early summer Ben watched as the mother seal pushed her pup off the rocks and into the sea. The shock of the cold water made the young seal panic. The water closed over her head. She pushed upward with her tail and flippers until her head burst through the surface
Her mother plunged into the water, and together they swam around and around -- diving, twisting, corkscrewing into the depths. When the seal pup broke through the water’s surface, she heard the boy cheer.
The summer days faded. One evening Ben went down to the harbor to meet his granddad, who was returning from a day’s fishing. Granddad’s old pickup truck sat with the door open and the radio on. The music of Beethoven [BAY-toh-vuhn] filled the air.
Granddad stared into the water. A whiskery face stared back at him like a reflection in the moonlit mirror of the harbor. Granddad tossed the seal a fish -- and then another. Ben watched as the mirror dissolved, reformed, and then dissolved again as they all shared the music of Beethoven.
While the wet winter winds buffeted the boy on his way to school, the young seal learned the lessons of the sea.
The seal loved to swim far from home, exploring the coast. She learned to fish by swimming deep and looking up to see the fish outlined against the sky. She slept at sea, floating upright like a bottle, with just her nose above the surface. Best of all she loved to haul herself up onto the rocks with other young seals to feel the sun and wind on her skin.
But one day the wind rose suddenly into a full-blown gale. Rain and mountainous waves wrenched great rocks from the cliffs. The young seals dived deep, trying to escape falling boulders. But even in the sea they were in danger. Some seals were dashed against the rocks by the waves.
The warmth of spring brought wildflowers and Ben and his granddad to the cliffs once more. But there was no sign of the young seal. “She must have died in the winter storms,” said Ben. But sometimes the mother seal still came to the harbor for an evening of fish and music.
As spring warmed into summer, Ben went every Saturday to Surf School. He was a strong swimmer, and after much practice he and the other new surfers were ready to catch some waves.
One sunny day Ben lay on his board as it rose and fell on the gently rocking swell. Suddenly he was aware of a quick movement in the water. A dark shape swooped under the board. The gleaming face of the young seal popped up beside his own. Ben was elated. “You’re alive!” he called, grinning.
The sea gathered itself for some big waves. The dark green walls of water lined up along the horizon. The seal sensed the movement of the water. Ben and the seal let the first two waves pass, then together they rode the third huge, rolling wave toward the shore.
All afternoon Ben and the seal surfed together. Then just as quickly as she had appeared, the seal was gone. Ben waited awhile and then let the next good wave carry him to the sand.
The next day the tide was perfect and the young seal was back. Again Ben and the seal surfed side by side. Ben could not take his eyes off the seal as she flashed through the water. As he concentrated on watching her, the wave he was riding suddenly broke and plunged him headfirst off his board. He somersaulted through the surf and struck a rock. The water, thick with sand, filled his nose and mouth. His body was pulled deeper and deeper. He was sinking into darkness.
The he felt a different sensation. His body was forced upward. Sunlight shone through the water onto Ben’s face as the seal pushed his body up. With a final heave she flipped Ben onto his board. He held on, and the next wave carried him to the shore. His friends crowded around to make sure he was all right. Once he caught his breath, Ben felt fine.
The next afternoon, and for the rest of the long, hot summer, Ben surfed with the seal.
The wonderful summer and gentle autumn were followed by the worst of winters. The storms smacked the rocks and churned up the sand and stones. The beach was deserted. No seals came there.
When the next spring brought the wildflowers to the cliffs, it brought Ben but not his grandfather. The boy and his friends ventured far along the cliffs, but they could find no sign of the seals.
As the evenings grew lighter toward the start of summer, Ben began fishing from the quay, as his granddad had done before him. One evening as he watched the still water, two shiny heads broke through the surface. Ben cheered as he saw the once young seal -- now as whiskery as Granddad -- with her young pup.
Ben smiled. He knew, then, that he would ride the waves with the seals that summer and every summer. And maybe one day he would lie on the cliff tops with his own grandchildren and together they would watch the seals.
Two Days in May
by Harriet Peck Taylor
Early one Saturday morning in May, I went to our fire escape window and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I looked down at the small garden I had planted behind our apartment building. Five animals were grazing on the new lettuce in my garden!
“Mama! Mama!” I called. “Come see what’s in our yard!”
Mama hurried over to the window and gasped. “Sonia those animals are deer, but how did they get here?” she asked. “I’ll run and tell Mr. Donovan.”
By the time Papa and I got out to the courtyard, a small crowd was gathering. “Papa, why are there deer in the city?” I asked. “The deer may have come all this way looking for food. They probably smelled your garden,” he explained.
I thought I had never seen such an amazing sight. Their fur was a golden brown, and they balanced on tiny hooves. They had nervous tails, and eyes that were big and black and gentle.
Down the block a train rumbled by, but here life seemed to stand still. Pigeons and squirrels were almost the only birds or animals we ever saw in our neighborhood.
Looking around, I recognized many neighbors. There was Isidro Sánchez and his sister, Ana. Standing near me were Mr. Smiley, owner of Smiley’s Laundromat, and my best friend, Peach, and Chester and Clarence Martin and the Yasamura sisters from down the hall. I saw Mr. Benny, the taxi driver, and the old Pigeon Lady, who was smiling brightly. I noticed that even neighbors who were almost strangers were standing close to each other. and whispering in a friendly way. Well, everyone except Mr. Smiley and the Pigeon Lady, who were not on speaking terms. Mr. Smiley was angry because the Pigeon Lady fed her pigeons in front of his Laundromat, and he thought that was bad for business.
Mr. Donovan, our landlord, approached Papa. They spoke in hushed voices, but I was all ears.
“Luis, I too, think the deer are really beautiful, but we both know they can’t stay here,” whispered Mr. Donovan. “They could be hit by a car. They belong in the woods, not in the city. I think we’d better call the animal control officers.” Papa nodded solemnly, and they walked off.
The Pigeon Lady came up to Peach and me and said, “Oh, girls, aren’t they wonderful!” “Yes!” we both answered together.
“I think two of the deer may be smaller. Those are probably females, or does. The males are called bucks. I used to see deer many years ago when I lived in the country.”
Soon, Papa and Mr. Donovan returned with worried looks on their faces. They gathered the group together. “The animal control office wants to shoot the deer,” said Papa. “It’s the law. The city is afraid the deer will starve. There aren’t enough woods left for all the deer to find a home,” added Mr. Donovan. “That’s why the young deer wander far away. They’re looking for territory of their own.”
Everyone was so quiet that all you could hear were street sounds: honking and beeping, rumbling and humming. Mr. Benny was the first to speak. “We can’t let them shoot the deer. There must be another way.”
“Yeah. That’s right!” said Teresa Yasamura. All around, people were nodding in agreement. Then Chester spoke up. “They wouldn’t shoot the deer in front of this many people. It would be too dangerous.”
“It’s true!” exclaimed Papa. “We can form a human wall around the deer without getting too close.” “Right on!” said Isidro. “We’ll stay here until we can figure out what to do.”
And that was the beginning of our peaceful protest.
Mr. Benny wrinkled his brow. “I remember reading a few months back about an organization that rescues and relocates animals that are stranded or injured. A fox had been hit by a car but wasn’t badly hurt. This outfit took it in until it healed and then found a new home for it far from busy streets. I’ll go see if I can find the number.”
A little while later, Mr. Benny returned and announced, “The wildlife rescuer isn’t in at the moment, but I left a message for him to call. I said it was an emergency.”
When the animal control officer arrived, he saw the crowd surrounding the deer and decided not to take any chances. “If you don’t mind, folks,” he said, “I’ll just hang around until you’ve all had enough and gone home.” But we weren’t leaving.
We stayed all afternoon, waiting anxiously, hoping to hear from the rescue organization. We got to know one another better, and we learned more about the deer. Peach’s eyes were wide and bright. “Look how they rotate their big soft ears to the left and right,” she exclaimed. Clarence said, “We studied deer in science. Their hearing is very sharp. It helps them detect enemies approaching from far away.”
Mr. Benny nodded as he walked over to us. “I sometimes see this kind of deer at night, in the headlights, when I drive way past the city limits. When they’re startled by the taxi’s lights, their tails go up like flags. The tails are white underneath, which means the animals are white-tailed deer.”
The deer grazed and slept cautiously, always alert to danger. They watched us with curious, intelligent eyes. I could see that the people made them uncomfortable, and it helped me appreciate that these really were wild animals. We tried to keep our distance and not make any sudden movements.
When evening came, the crowd grew. We talked quietly and told jokes as we kept watch over our silent friends. We ordered pizza from Giuseppe’s. Ana Sánchez spoke to the animal control officer. “Would you like a slice of pizza?” she asked.
“Thanks so much,” he said. “My name is Steve Scully, and I understand how hard this must be for all of you. This is the part of my job I dislike. The problem is population growth. We’ve built towns and highways where there were once forests and streams. Now there is very little habitat left for the deer. There is no easy solution.” He shook his head sadly.
I begged Papa to let me sleep outside all night, since almost everyone was staying. Mama came out with my baby brother, Danny. She brought blankets, a quilt, a jacket, and even my stuffed dog, Hershey.
Mama sat close and draped her arm across my shoulders. “Are you sure you’ll be warm enough, Sonia?” she asked. “I’m sure,” I said. We sat silently together, admiring the deer. Finally she said, “I have to go put Danny to bed.” She kissed me on the top of my head. “Sweet dreams, pumpkin.” I slept like a bear cub, curled in a ball against Papa’s broad back.
Next morning, I awoke with the sun in my eyes and city sounds buzzing in my ears. Papa hugged me and asked how I liked camping out. “I dreamed I ws sleeping with the deer in cool forests under tall trees.” “Your were, Sonia!” he said, laughing. “But not in the forest.” I looked at the deer. “Has the wildlife rescuer called back?” I asked.
“Yes, Sonia. The organization called late last night and hopes to get someone out here this morning.” The group was quiet as we all continued to wait.
Later that morning, a rusty orange truck pulled up. The man who got out had a friendly open face. All eyes were on him. “Hi, folks. My name is Carl Jackson, and I’m with the wildlife organization,” he said. “I need to put the deer in crates in order to take them to our center. Don’t be alarmed -- I’m going to shoot them with a small amount of tranquilizer to make them sleep for a little while.” Then, as they wobbled on unsteady legs, he grabbed them gently and guided them toward the wooden crates.
Carl turned to the crowd and smiled. “I’m an animal lover, too, and all of you should feel proud for helping save these deer. I’ll find a home for them in the woods, where they’ll be safe and happy and have plenty to eat.”
Steve Scully came forward and extended his hand to Carl. “Glad you came, man” A cheer went up from the crowd. People slapped each other on the back. Isidro high-fived everyone, including Mr. Donovan and the Pigeon Lady. Peach and I hugged each other, and Papa shook hands with Carl and Steve. I said good-bye to Teresa and Sandy Yasamura and to Mr. Benny.
I even saw Mr. Smiley shake the Pigeon Lady’s hand. “Maybe you can feed the pigeons behind my Laundromat,” he said. “I have a little space back there.” The Pigeon Lady smiled.
A few days later, Papa got a call from Carl. One of the does had given birth to two fawns! And Carl had found a home for all seven deer in a wooded area northwest of the city.
Sometimes when I’m sitting on the fire escape, watching the flickering city lights, I think of the deer. In my mind, they’re gliding silently across tall grass meadows all aglow in silver moonlight.