Yesterday, we drove 40 minutes to see sea lions. I packed snacks, a camera and my writer’s notebook. On the drive, I gathered ocean views through the trees, wondered how each inhabited spot looked like it belonged to a different decade and marveled at how few cars were on the road on this old island highway.
I thought about needing to write many more Slice of Life posts and felt comforted by new inspiration all around me. Lately, I have been listening to writers speak not just as a reader but also as a “need-to-be-writing learner.” Certain advice speaks particular truth and wisdom: write daily, omit unnecessary words, gather every small detail.
As we sat on the fishing dock watching sea lions and being amused by their bellows, I asked myself: how hard can that be?. Details, details, details. I could do this. Write all that I noticed.
Sixty plus sea lions sunning themselves on a barge is all about noise. What words went with all of that noise? Bellows wasn’t quite the one. It was more like wails. Or barks. Honks? More like squeaky honks. No, croaks. But hardly like a frog. Maybe a monstrous frog with a bad cough? Burps. Burps sounds offensive. Yet, all of this noise is kind of offensive. After 5 minutes or so, I am convinced that most of their communication is about telling each other off. “Move.” “You move.” “Get your head off my behind.” I know, I know, they don’t really have behinds. This is why writers do research. But I had a notebook, not a computer, so all I could know is what I could see. I made a list: honks, growls, sneezes, sputters, squawks, gurgles, howls. And then another: like honking geese, wailing cows, purring donkeys (yes, I know donkeys don’t purr but neither do these guys)
“They’re noisy bloody things,” remarked one guy. Maybe he had it. Captured it in few words. Except he sounded annoyed. I was completely entertained. In rare moments of silence, I held my breath waiting for it all to begin again.
Time to move beyond the noise. This is hard to do. They are glossy just out of the water, like wet patterned stone. All graceful and sleek. More bellows. They look like long-necked bears rolling about jostling for position. Squawk. Honk. Roar.
Eventually, I gave up. Packed away the notebook. Put away the camera. Sat back in the sunshine and smiled at all of the ruckus.
Sure this could be a story. But I won’t be telling it. I am more content just to sit beside the ocean on an island not far from home, completely delighted that I can’t capture in words this barrage of sound from these sea creatures I am so lucky to see.
It is not about searching for stories in the details. The stories find us. We gather details so that they can come alive for others when and if we choose to tell them.
I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.
Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.