At first it is impossible to find them. The seals pile onto the ledges at low tide as if they were part of the rocks. You have to know that they are there, always there, before you can separate them into categories: animal and mineral.
Today, they are lying in a heap of 20 to 30, belly up to the sun, portraits of contentment. From time to time, in the heat that has warmed even this Maine bay, one flips over like a baby and slips casually into the ocean. Another bellies up the rocks again and settles into a new place.
It is enormously peaceful at our seal-watching post. The cormorants that took off from the water, flapping madly as we came near their home, return. The seal, accustomed to the lobstermen who work their territory, are equally tolerant of us. We, in turn, respect their own sense of distance.
From time to time, their curiosity competes with their wariness and they surround the boat watching us watching them.
It has been months now since I last seal-watched here. Yet, they are doing precisely what they did last year, and what they wil do next year.
Today, I find that reassuring. I have come here directly from Detroit, from one world and sense of reality to another. From one culture to another. From the urgency and frenzy of important people doing important things to the timelessness of the bay.
In a week that passed, people made "news." Things changed. A new group came to power. A man was nominated to be president, another nominated to be vice president.
At the same time, every day on these ledges, the seals turned their bellies to the sun at low tide, and slid into the water.
Which was real, realer, realest"
Sitting in the boat, drifting too near the ledges, I wonder again whether this place is an escape from reality or an escape into it. Which is the constant? The things that change or those that do not? The world people "make" or the world they live in?
Yes, I know the placidity of life at this ledge can be an illusion. It is always easier to have a long perspective on other peoples, other species, other times. In the past year, I am sure that much has happened to my small colony of seals: births, deaths, migrations, seasons.
Yet I am much more impressed by their sameness -- the same heaps, the same curiosity, the same life cycle. It reminds me of our own, human sameness. That seems to me realer, surely realer than the drama of the "powerful" and the power of change.
In Detroit, in our public life and pubic places, we see and hear people who are more impressed by altering the world than by finding a way to live in it. The powerful are, almost by definition, change agents. They assume that we can -- should -- take hold of events and move them. They are the directors, the shapers.
Even the politicians who last week talked of "the eternal verities" and "fundamentals" and "everlasting" do not think of themselves as passengers in a larger life but as conductors. It comes with the territory of politics.
The others, people wo believe that change is a kind of human vanity, are rarely seen on platforms. Those who believe that the current is more powerful and important than our efforts to fight it, or turn it, do not run for office.
I suppose they stop striving, and choose to do no harm. They watch the seals and go with the flow. They turn to simplicity or irony or poetry, not politics. They drop out, or drop back, and leave the world to the makers, the shapers.
Most of us get caught in our own dailiness, importance and change. We do what people have always done: maintain the sense -- the illusion? -- that we control our lives.
But in this Maine Bay, as we find ourselves beached unceremoniously on the ledges, a colony of seals is my reminder of the other reality. I watch the seals watching us as we struggle to push off the rocks. We are too impatient to wait for the tide.