Making New Friends

by Karen West, Guest Writer

I’m floating in Ludlow Bay on my blue kayak when a gray and black spotted harbor seal pops his head up and looks directly at me, as if saying, “Welcome to my world.”

My phone is buried under two layers of fleece and a life jacket so I can’t record my epic nature experience.

I glide under a barnacle-bedazzled bridge about a quarter mile away and spot the seal again. “Mike, look, he’s still with us,” I whisper to my husband trying not to scare our new friend away. “Quick, get a picture.” Then he disappears again leaving a ripple in his wake.

When he resurfaces, he’s a breath-taking foot away and gliding only a few inches under the clear water. I stop paddling and sit motionless in awe of his torpedo-shaped body shimmying through the water like a synchronized swimmer.

As I’m watching the seal, I feel a familiar warm, calming presence and imagine my mother is with me. More than imagine. Like a recess monitor, I visualize her directing the seal to play hide and seek with us – for an entire hour.

I wouldn’t have thought twice about it if the seal had not reappeared after my initial sighting. But, like a tour guide pointing out the tree-lined Twin Islands, the historic Totem Pole at Burner Point and secluded coves near the marina, I felt a connection with my private escort.

My faithful friend pops up each time I stop to rest and take in the beauty of Ludlow Bay. I imagine him saying: “Come on, I have more to show you.” After sharing my experience with a colleague, she recounts the legend of Scotland’s indigenous people: “They believed the common seal was their ancestral spirit.”

Not only did they believe people evolved from seals, they viewed seals as “sentinels watching and guarding spirits of the dead as they rose with the rising of the sun.”

Her tale reinforces my theory that my mother is reaching out to me through my new aquatic friend. It’s her way of saying: “I’m still here. I’m always with you.’’

And I believe it’s her way of blessing our new home in Port Ludlow and confirming we made the right choice in moving here.

After 23 years living in the same house on Bainbridge Island, we are in downsizing and discovery mode. We aren’t just shedding household clutter. We are slowing down our lives to concentrate on family, health and our own well being.

We’ve spent our lives accumulating things and working hard to pay for them, only to let them go to fill someone else’s home. We are redefining the lifestyle and identities we have built around our jobs, our kids and our aging parents.

First birthdays, annual Christmas parties, endless baseball and softball games and high school graduation celebrations are now being relegated to imaginary scrapbooks. Gone are the 12-hour workdays and running to beat the two-minute warning before the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry gates slam shut.

It’s moving day in our new “village in the woods by the bay” and a friend is coming to help unpack. The minute she pulls up our driveway a double rainbow unfolds into a multi-colored kaleidoscope directly in front of us.

Like the affection I felt from my harbor seal, my mom’s warm embrace emanates from the orange, yellow and purple arcs in the sky. And, I can almost hear her whispering: “Welcome Home.”