It's cold enough to snow outside. It never snows here because it's too warm, even when it's cold. That is, it's just cold enough to squawk about how uncomfortable you are, how your feet and ankles feel like uncoordinated stumps of wood and your lips won't move much when you try to speak. But, it's too warm to show proof to your friends by waving photos of your frozen self up to your knees in slushy snow or standing next to icicles. The ocean looks great no matter what, and when friends see our cold ocean photographed in winter, they say, "Oh, it looks so pretty. Sure wish I was there."
I guess it goes to show that even a near-death experience can be a thing of beauty. It was 49 degrees at 7:30 this morning, the ocean was 51, and, with the wind-chill factor figured in, it felt like 20 below or something in the freeze-your-chichis-off range. The sunlight, beaming in thin slivers through the gathering clouds overhead, glanced off the restless surface of the sea and looked like tinfoil. Or shiny chrome.
Because I knew how cold the water is, I wasn't very enamored of its chrome-like glitter. They say familiarity breeds contempt. I have no contempt for the Pacific, but I do have immense respect for it, and for life living in it.
Which brings me to sea otters, those cute and seemingly fun-loving wonders of the ocean that charm the pants off of everyone who sees them. They aren't actually fat, not like seals, sea lions and other big ocean-dwelling creatures are. Instead, they're incredibly furry, wrapped from head to toe in the densest fur imaginable. They spend a large portion of their time grooming oil and air bubbles into their coats so they can remain water repellent. And they eat and eat and eat, bringing up shellfish from the rocky ocean bottom to bash open with rocks also hauled up from below.
Sea otters float around on their backs, looking nonchalant on imaginary chaise lounges, waving at tourists, grooming their coats, whacking shells on rocks on their bellies. You see them, nonplussed, riding up and down in storm swells, ducking through cresting waves, thriving in the cold water like you or I do on our living room recliners. At Pt. Lobos, famous for many reasons now but known in whaling days for a harbor where blubber was rendered, you can stroke a sea otter pelt on display and learn about the differences between otters and seals. The fur is soft, plush and nearly impossible to part down to the skin. It has a thousand hairs per square inch. Just for fun, count the number of hairs on a square inch of your arm. Not such a big number in comparison.
The mean glitter of the ocean at dawn today warned of cold, so I heeded the signs and stayed dry. I saw an otter foraging, a sea lion cruising the shoreline and peering over at me as it swam slowly by. Gulls, cormorants, grebes, and pigeons sailed or perched on high rocks and outcroppings, high and dry. Down below them, the otter charmed one and all with its ability to thrive in the freezing water. I'm always tempted to wave at them, but they're too busy staying warm to notice the likes of me.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way