4:21:15 The Sea Lions at Astoria

Last weekend, I was in Astoria, Oregon's storied port city where the Columbia River meets the vastness of the Pacific. A relaxed town of 10,000 residents, many descendants of seafaring and fur-trapping stock from the world over. Not unexpectedly, an authentic Finnish sauna, dating from 1928, sits across the main drag from the Suomi (Finnish) Brotherhood Hall.

In the last few months, however, something unexpected has happened in Astoria. The population has jumped by 2,300 and national news outlets arrived, trying to make sense of this.

[sea lions]

You see, the 2,300 new residents are California sea lions and they have found a new home on port docks that earlier were only occupied by a dozen or more of their kin. These California transplants have arrived for the most basic of reasons: available food. Sardine populations in California waters have plummeted with the variations in ocean currents and temperatures. As the news folks would say, casting about for an easy hook, climate change.

Putting aside for the moment whether these 2,300 sea lions are poster children for climate change, something remarkable is before one's eyes when you walk out the Astoria pier for a closer look.

There're no undernourished sea lions, and their sizey bodies occupy every square inch of available dock surface. A few are barking, what one expects of sea lions. And yet, crowded in unbelievable closeness ... there is harmony among all. No one nips another; no one is provoked. No, they are all enjoying the sunshine and the breezes coming off the river. Surely, one of the most remarkable displays of getting along I've seen in my life.

I wish the same could be said for the humans around them.

I talked with a seaman who lives aboard a nearby fishing boat and he said the sea lions have created "factions" unlike any he's ever seen. Namely, 38-caliber shells found on the docks after somebody decided to execute one of sea lions. Possibly protesting the Federal agent who fined the owner of a pit bull $50,000 after the dog killed a sea lion when the two fought.

One would think instead of writing $50,000 citations, the Feds would better spend their time shaking loose a bit of wildlife protection funds and putting a few carpenters to work building more floating-dock space.

The only thing worse than climate change is a failure of imagination and the anarchy of the nuttiest. Astoria's newest emigres might decide they like living in Oregon, so why not give them more room to settle in?

Image credit: google images: oregonlive.com


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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.



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