Birth of a Harbor Seal

Harbor seal in labor sidled up to friend before giving birth -even closer 4-11-11.jpg2

Birth of a Harbor Seal

There was a shining suddenness to her appearance.
Her head surfaced above the silky skin of the water,
keen eyes focused on the shore
then she hauled her great body out of the lagoon
and onto the sandy bar.

Belly bulging with life waiting to be born
she undulated up the beach and then
stationed herself like an island of silver
wet and glistening in the sun.

She sat by herself,
eyes wide and alert
watching
listening.

Her sleeping sisters, resting like dappled boulders
along the beach never stirred,
wrapped in the warm velvet of their dreams.

The imminence grew stronger
and she fell onto her side
to ease the weight of it,
bringing her foreflippers together
as if in prayer
to whatever sea god or selkie
helps mother harbor seals
bring life into the world.

She held that pose, like a chi gung circle, for a long while
until the intensity made her seek the company of her herd.
She lumbered down the beach on her belly
to where the others were resting.

A young pup woke and raised its head to look at her,
sensing her urgency.
Seeing an opening near a grown seal, she sidled up close to her
and lay on her side, again pressing foreflippers together,
hind flippers flexed back in taut expectation.

The seal who had been touched sat upright, arched her back
and raised her head, nose pointing to the sky,
opened her mouth wide as if in silent ululation,
while the expectant mother leaned into her,
grateful for her support.

A flock of gulls soon landed knowing a birth was about to happen.

The fever of labor drove her down to the water again to cool off.
She slipped in, dove under, spiraled around
and climbed up onto the beach again
as if in one motion.

She positioned herself so that her rear
was facing the back of a resting seal,
a makeshift barrier to protect herself
from the mob of gulls
who were crowding all around her now.

And then it happened.
The infant pup slid out in a gush
quickly followed by the afterbirth.
The hungry gulls grabbed the placenta,
each tearing off a portion for their fare,
which they gobbled up in an instant.

The herd of seals were all awake now
and seemingly aware of the new mother’s intention,
they cleared out of the way to make an easy passage
to the water for the newborn.
Some slipped into the water themselves.

The mother seal touched noses with her pup
affectionately and then nudged it
to follow her.
A few persistent gulls were still targeting her rear
where a remnant string of the afterbirth
remained dangling.

She led the pup into the water
and once immersed, her jubilation became palapable.
She and her pup dove under, surfaced,
touching noses every few seconds —
nuzzling, diving, surfacing,
swimming along together in bonding celebration.

Here, in the water, she showed her pup,
“We are graceful and agile as the water itself.
Here love becomes weightless and
flows beyond the horizon.
This is our waking world.
Land is only where we go to rest.”

Washed clean of the blood of birth,
she nosed her pup back up onto shore,
found a comfortable spot on the sand
and lay down on her side
so her pup could reach her nipple.

Her pup began to nurse happily,
lanugo fur keeping it warm.
Mother seal put her head down
and let herself relax after her long vigil.
All was well.
The afternoon sun shone upon them.
It was a good day to be born.

© 2012 Andrea Freeman


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