Sea Elephants Part 2

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

-T.S. Elliot

In the New Year I return to its namesake, Ano Nuevo State Park, to see the return of the male elephant seals. In fact there were 235 bull seals hauled up on the beaches and dunes and 53 pups. During this time of year all tours are led by docents and we joined a group of about 15.

At the staging area, a juvenile peregrine falcon spiraled overhead to the complete obliviousness of our group. Some of these people looked like they were on Disneyland’s Safari ride and wanted to be entertained immediately! And some of the ensuing questions like, “can we pet them?”, “are they bored?” and “do they drink water?” show a complete lack of natural literacy. Talk about nature deficit disorder!

Our docent led us over and through the dunes where the sounds of the massive males reached us before we saw them. As we made our way through, the members of our group photographed everything in front of them without really seeing them. As a recovering professional photographer I truly knew the distinction.

While they shot away on their cellphones, I calmly sketched the elephant seals, noticing the details and taking them in with my senses. Sketching is such a simple, unhurried way to translate the outside world into a memory or an observation. In that moment of sketching I could have been a scientist on Drakes’ voyage, seeing an elephant seal for the first time.

When sketching, you are always really seeing something for the first time.


We were within twenty feet of one male who was covering himself with sand to help cool him down.

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