With all that's going on in the world, it's easy to think that the little things just don't matter. It's a pretty big planet and it's hard to imagine something you or I can do that'll much make a difference anywhere. I think about that sometimes when I stop to separate my trash from the recyclables or make a conscious effort to use less water. At my age, at this point, do these little things really matter?
My thinking on all this got a kick in the butt last weekend as I stood in the drizzle on Scotty's Beach on the Northern California coast and watched volunteers from the Marine Mammal Center release rescued seals and sea lions back into the Pacific Ocean. Each year, scores of local volunteers respond to calls about injured animals. Once the calls come in, the Center responds and evaluates the sick or injured animal. Seals and sea lions that are treatable are transported to facilities in Sausalito where they are cared for and nursed back to health.
Once these treated animals have recovered, they are released back into the wild. During the release I witnessed, two sea lions and a harbor seal scampered happily down the sand and back into the ocean. Anyone who has visited the Northern California coast knows that the Pacific Coast Highway clings for dear life along the cliffs and beaches here. Parking is at a premium, but on this morning a local rancher opened up one of his pastures and volunteers escorted everyone through the cow pies for easy parking on the inland side of the highway. Several folks held taught a heavy rope so those not so sure footed could make a safe decent from the roadside down to the beach. About 50 or so onlookers shared umbrellas as a rare October storm blew through before clearing just a few minutes prior to the release.
My motor-driven Nikon F4 with a nice telephoto, loaded with some high speed color film would have been the better choice for this event, but I had no idea what I would be seeing that day and the rainy morning kept me from bringing my more valuable gear. My Pentax Spotmatic was loaded with Eastman 5222 black and white film so I grabbed that thinking I could keep it dry under my windbreaker. Excuse my exposures, messy compositions and flare from shooting into the sun which just broke through as the little harbor seal left his transport and headed home.
We were told to be quiet during the release so as not to distract the seal. Volunteers held wood boards to coax the animal back towards the sea if it ventured into the crowd. Outside of the sound of the surf, all I could hear were the people standing next to me gasping in amazement as the little patient made his way back into the water, finally disappearing into the foam. The crowd applauded and I looked around and watched people wiping tears from their eyes, everyone realizing at once how special what we had just witnessed really was.
Next up, the release of two sea lions which had been transported from Sausalito to Bodega Bay in a special container built by inmates at San Quentin Prison.
The folks from the Center told us that the two sea lions might touch noses, a sign of affection towards each other, as they headed towards the water. To everyone's delight, they did just a moment after I took this photo. No motor-drive...drat!
As they headed home, they would occasionally stop and survey the humans along the barrier ropes. I considered that maybe they were stopping to say "thank you." It's easy for us to try and transpose human thought and emotions on other creatures, but it didn't really matter. As strange as it may sound, for that moment, on that beach, I felt a bond. Mammals helping other mammals. And then, they were gone.
The crowd dispersed slowly, quietly. It was almost as if we had all attended a religious ceremony. It was for me. A representative from the Marine Mammal Center told us that the merchants down in Bodega Bay were donating a percentage of their profits that day to the Center and I saw familiar faces from the release event back in town, shopping and having lunch. I know, in the big scheme of things, returning a seal and two sea lions to the ocean doesn't change much, but it made me realize that people CAN individually and collectively do really good and important things.
2016 has been a year of startling environmental awareness for me. As I drove into the Southern entrance of Yosemite and saw the effects of California's long drought on mountain vegetation or shot photos of crab fishing boats at Bodega Bay idled because warmer ocean waters grew algae that made the crab toxic, it's become evident to me that we need to take action...now.
All the good little things we do ARE important because they add up to big things.