Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Score: Earl, 1; Seals, 1; Tourists, 0

After a number of guests returned with tales of dozens of gray seals, resting on a sandbar at low tide, Sven and I finally got around to visiting High Head in Truro to see for ourselves. We left the car in the crowded parking lot and followed a sand road towards the beach. People were coming and going.

“Popular spot!” I said to my husband, as we passed hikers, bikers, and tourists.

There were yellow flowers growing here and there. Someone had abandoned a mountain bike. Further on, athletic shoes had been shed. The scenery allowed a spectacular view of low dunes from time to time (above), but most of the terrain was flat, with dense vegetation growing on either side of the trail. I kept thinking of the Pilgrims, having explored this area and their need to hack through the vegetation ...

“See any seals?” I asked a couple, heading in the opposite direction.

“About half a mile up the beach,” the man said, wiping his brow. He shook a sophisticated camera at his wife. “Betcha they look like dots.”

I followed Sven who had continued to trudge up the hill.

The entrance to some of Truro’s beaches is so dramatic. You walk up, up, up, surrounded by beige sand, and then, all of a sudden, when you have almost given up hope and are beginning to dream of camels in the Sahara, the ocean appears. Blue, everywhere. The majestic Atlantic dominates the view.

At the beach entrance, we passed a National Seashore sign - “Gray seals resting ahead. Do Not Disturb” - and proceeded down to the water’s edge, where the sand is more firm. There we turned north. Finally what was left of the sandbar came into view. The seals were playing in the shallow water beyond. I was surprised by how many people were on the beach: sunbathers, fishermen, a group of tourists, with a guide, no less. I could tell from the respectful way the tourists behaved and the clip board that the guide was a Park ranger. Park rangers are almost sacred. She had sparkly starfish dangle earrings, which clashed a bit with her uniform and clunky shoes. All the tourists held binoculars, aimed at the sea.

Sven and I edged into the group to listen in on what the ranger was saying. I learned we were looking at horse seals. They were no longer visible on the sandbar because of Earl, which had redistributed the sand in a dramatic way. The ranger took a step back so the tourists could continue gawking. Now, for what happened next, we have two versions. You choose your favorite:

ME: “Sven approached and asked about the great white shark. The ranger told the tourists about the recent sightings and the video of the shark eating a seal.”

SVEN: “Then Sven approached the Park ranger and said, ‘What about the big white shark?’ She looked at him and said, ‘Oh, thank you, sir. I almost forgot that part, sir.’ With tears in her eyes, she came up and gave him a big hug. ‘As the gentleman just pointed out, around three weeks ago, wasn’t it, sir?, a great white shark was sighted at this very spot where we are standing. A man in a vehicle filmed the shark eating a seal, with blood in the water and everything …’”

Either version will do to draw gasps from the tourists.

Sven and I were glad we made the trip, but have gotten a better look at seals right here in Wellfleet. Check out these cuties!