A Seal in the Surf

Written By: Deborah Hunt

Walking the beach off Old Montauk Highway is a summer ritual for me, and one that keeps me going through the Fall, Winter, and Spring. At a moment’s notice, I can let my mind drift to the unspoiled dunes, silky sun kissed sand, and salt mist sprays that gently envelop me. These memories are so permanently etched in my mind that I can actually feel the warmth of the sun’s golden rays as I sink deeper and deeper into my own personal sanctuary.

Another summer is upon us, and my dreams have become a reality. The sights, sounds, scents, and scenery remain soothingly familiar, yet never cease to amaze. The feel of the sand beneath my toes varies from the soft squishiness along the surf to the coarse, yet somehow soothing sand in the middle, to the luxurious silky sand right beneath the dunes. The seagulls sing their songs while in flight and glide majestically along the surf while constantly seeking a tasty morsel. I think that I have loved seagulls since the day I read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach, oh so many years ago.

As I continue my walk, seaweed drifts in and out landing in no particular pattern, yet seemingly ending up right where it belongs. Sun seekers claim their spots with umbrellas, coolers, chairs, pails, shovels, and towels in myriad colors and designs creating a striking mosaic. All are striving to create a moment in time to relax, dream, laugh, swim, dig, or to craft one’s own masterpiece in the sand. Blissfully ignoring their neighbors caught up in their own reveries.

On this particular day, something out of the ordinary and perhaps extraordinary occurs. A lone seal, who must have strayed from the safety of Montauk Point, where most of the harbor seals congregate suddenly appears in the waves. Bobbing up and down, gliding past the few swimmers who have decided to brave the mighty ocean. One by one the sun seekers spot the seal and run to the surf, and a crowd begins to form.

We follow the seal as he briefly disappears under the water only to emerge several feet away. Phones in hand memories are being made as pictures are being snapped. Gasps and laughter resound as oblivious swimmers are startled by this lovely creature of the sea. The group is now united in the simple joy of watching the antics of the little seal and ponder why he has suddenly appeared. The crowd grows and continues to trek down the beach. Sometimes the seal disappears under the water for quite some time only to surface several yards away. Complete strangers are now fast friends excited to see this unusual spectacle, yet worried that harm will come to this charming little seal. In my mind, I have named him “Shel” after one of my favorite poets Shel Silverstein. I know that “Shel” will now become part of my Montauk memories that I can conjure up whenever I need to restore my soul. We continue to follow “Shel” and people begin to share their concerns. “Do you think he’s injured?” “What can we do to help him?” “Should we call someone?” Now, our joy is shifting.

Suddenly, the Marine Patrol arrives. People rush up to them and start sharing their stories. They listen politely and then allay our fears. They assure us that “No, this is not an unusual occurrence” and “Yes, the seal will make it safely back to his home”. We breathe a collective sigh of relief, and the crowd slowly disperses. The magic begins to fade, yet the simplistic beauty of this one moment in time will be etched forever in my mind.