By Canadian standards, I'm from a fair sized city. So, it was quite a culture shock when, at the age of 14, my family moved to a sea-side community on Vancouver Island. Gone were the 24-hour convenience stores, the crowded buses, and the metropolitan sprawl. Instead, we found ourselves surrounded by giant trees, swarms of hummingbirds, and the Pacific Ocean itself.
In a place that was in such sharp contrast to everything we considered "normal", the possibilities for adventure were limitless. My brothers, J & M, and I spent almost every chance we got exploring. We'd hike through the nearby forests, wander along the logging roads, or bike down the "highway" to the nearby "town". But the best place to go was always the beach.
Now, when I say the word "beach", one instinctively pictures an expanse of pristine white sand, sun sparkling through gentle waves lapping at the shore. In this case, nothing could be further from the truth... In fact, our beach was rocky, strewn with driftwood and seaweed, and surrounded by jagged cliffs. And, since we were located right at one of the narrowest straits leading into the local harbor, whether the tide was coming in or going out, the water was always racing through there at a furious pace. Treacherous, to say the least.
There were lots of ways to amuse ourselves down on that little beach... Sometimes we'd go looking for starfish, prying their red or purple bodies from the rocks as low-tide exposed them. Other times we'd walk around flipping over large rocks to see how many little crabs were underneath. We even played a game once or twice where we'd put on ski gloves, thrust our hands into a nest of the crustaceans and see how many held on when we pulled them out. Not the highest form of entertainment, perhaps, but we were kids. And, of course, there was always "The Rope"...
At the base of one of the cliffs was a dead tree, the kind without bark or branches... Essentially no more than a slender wooden pole angling out over the water. The thing had to be at least 40 feet tall. Some brave or stupid soul at one point had climbed all the way to the top and tied a boat rope there. So, what we found on our first trip to the beach was the Mother of all swinging ropes. And, until is was washed away, there was originally a massive log right under the rope that we would run along and jump off of to gain extra momentum. It was especially exciting during high tide, when we could launch ourselves out over the choppy water. Naturally, once our parents learned about this, we were forbidden to go near it. Of course, being good little boys, we obeyed this missive (wink, wink).
As I said, the massive log was eventually washed away, and we would always go down to the beach afterwards, hoping to see another in its place. Well, it just so happened that my brother M found exactly that... or so he thought. J and I were walking along with our heads down, probably looking for more crabs to torture... er... play with, when M started wildly calling for our attention.
"Guys! Guys! Check out this big log!"
We turned around to see him standing on top of a very large oblong mass. He jumped up and down a little bit.
"It feels kinda squishy!"
We didn't need to get too close to see, and probably smell, why it felt "kinda squishy"... I think that's pretty much what you can expect from the bloated carcass of a full grown (but recently expired) seal.