It’s a cool February late afternoon, a steady breeze blows in from the north, and a not-quite-foggy haze in the pastel sky just before sunset. I’ve spent much of the day sequestered in a box we call a visitors center with little ambition to get much done and alarmingly few visitors to chat with. All afternoon I’ve stared out the front windows at a glorious day, wanting to join the gulls in their swirling and diving over the surf that sweeps in on the beach in regular and oddly horizontal waves.
Foregoing the opportunity to spend the final hour of my day in yet another box I call my office, I venture out to the mouth of the creek as the sun slips down towards a horizon hidden in distant clouds.
A large gathering of mew gulls and western gulls huddles around the mouth of the creek. I find a seat on the low bench of sand carved out by recent swift running waters from upstream. The estuary has returned to its pre-storm bulb shape as the channel narrows and calm water once again sits in its southern bend.
Every couple of minutes a surge of sea water riding on two or three larger waves pushes through the channel. The main surge pushes straight up the deeper main channel, small, rolling waves surging upstream through the boulder-lined levee walls towards town. A smaller pulse of water bends around the small sandy peninsula on the south bank of the creek, easing its way around the curved shoreline and gently swelling the estuary’s south slough.
25 harbor seals laze at the end of that tiny peninsula, the high curving bank of sand protecting them from the ocean surf. They watch me warily as they always do wondering if or when they’ll need to rock their sausage-like bodies off the dry sand into the water if I approach any closer. A couple of faint-hearted fellows bail into the water when I reach in my pocket for the camera, only to return to the beach a few minutes later when they realize I’m not going anywhere. These same two or three chickenshit seals repeat their panicked escapes twice more, once when I pull out a pen to take these notes, then again when I reach in my back pocket for a hankie to wipe away the post-flu nasal drip.
I walk back by way of the south slough of the estuary needing to head home, more to help with science fair projects than a desire to leave this spot on the beach. Just as I step onto the observation platform overlooking the estuary, I hear quiet munching. Just below me, not ten feet away sits a plump brown beaver noshing on some willow stalks. I don’t think he even noticed me for the first ten seconds or so. It was reaching (again) for that damn camera that catches his attention. He looks up at me, a bit pissed I think for interrupting his happy hour, and slides quietly into the calm, dark waters and disappears.
It was, folks, my first beaver. At least my first Humboldt beaver. I know what you’re thinking: “Bob, you’re a ranger. You must see this shit all the time!” It doesn’t happen that way. I’m more typically, by position more than desire, the office jockey doing paperish tasks and organizing other folks to get out and experience this stuff than actually getting out to play in the out of doors myself. But lately it’s the making-up of excuses to get out here so I have something to occasionally write about that’s opened up the bureaucratic blinders to everything that shares this little corner of the planet with me.
Not a bad job, eh, when you can write off an hour on the beach as a pay-worthy experience. Hasta la proxima.