A FEW WORDS ON SEA LIONS BARKING AT THE BAY CLUB
The first two stanzas are pretty much a literal presentation of a night in San Diego, one of my favorite cities in the U.S. Becky and I used to work there often: we would usually stay at the Bay Club on Shelter Island; and we would almost always eat dinner at Miguel’s, a Mexican restaurant within walking distance.
The comment about 30 pounds of fish in the stomach is an exaggeration, but that’s how much an adult sea lion eats every day.
It’s not unusual to see sea lions on the beach on Shelter Island, but this evening, they seemed particularly disturbed, and their barking got louder during the night, waking me about 3:00 AM.
In the poem I say that my mind wanders, but really, I was beginning to ruminate, as I often do at 3:00 AM.
The poem goes on to narrate some of what we historically know about Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, who gives his name to the highest point in San Diego, which overlooks the Pacific. On a lucky day, you can see whales. We know that Juan Rodriquez was from Portugal, and that he joined the Spanish conquistadors in their sack of Mexico. We also are pretty sure that he died in the Channel Islands, but we don’t know the details: whether he was alone or surrounded by his men.
We are also not completely sure what he was doing in the New World in the first place, but I’d place my money that he was looking for gold.
English-speaking North Americans would also one day push all the way to the California shores. Perhaps they were looking for more than gold. Some historians have talked about “the vanishing frontier,” the idea that the United States was such a dynamic country because, in the old days, if you got fed up with where you were, you could always push west and start your life all over again.
But we could only push so far in our pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Eventually we hit the ocean, no real chance of pushing west for an individual, although the country would annex Hawaii.
So, what’s the individual to do?
If you’re inclined to read you can turn to the quintessential American poet, Walt Whitman, who faced this very dilemma in Facing West From California’s Shores. The poem begins with the title as the first line, but ends with literally a parenthetical remark:
“(But where is what I started for so long ago?
And why is it yet unfound?”)
I appreciate Whitman’s honesty, but in my closing lines, I try to offer a more optimistic possibility:
Wasn’t it always here,
what we’ve searched for so,
between the sea lion’s yelp
and the receding waves of the sea?
The answers are all around us, if we can just open our eyes.