An almost story of sea lions: Slice of Life #18

Sea lions #sol18

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.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

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.

22 thoughts on “An almost story of sea lions: Slice of Life #18

  1. The idea of sitting and absorbing the sea lions brought back memories of travels out west. The ideas on looking for stories, but them finding you connects to my daily life!

  2. For not telling a story, you sure did a great job! Love how your struggle with the words to describe their sound actually captured their sound. Glad you took the time to just sit back and enjoy.

  3. I shall read this to my first graders. We talk about how to read like a writer and write like a reader–this will be a good example. On another note, I admire a teacher who can find time to write in the midst of the days. I am a writer. I have a book out there. But I still don’t write daily. I’d love to try, but the thought of adding one more thing to the treadmill ride… shudder.

  4. Such a delightful account of a slice of your thinking. Thanks for sharing. I often ask students to “unpack your thinking”; in other words, show each piece that got you to this place. Yours is a great example of that for word choice and topic selection/rejection.

  5. It’s just nice to hear that you sat back and enjoyed the scene of those raucous sealions, who I think are also enjoying the scene. Otherwise, why would they be there? Lovely little trip, Carrie. Happy you took us along.

  6. As I read this, I thought how it fit with my slice of today too. I love the words to describe the sea lions’s voices. You did put words to the soundtrack of your time with sea lions. Even though some of the words sound rude (so you said), they were the language of the creatures. What a fun outing!

  7. “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.” This is my favorite part of writing. Just when I think I have nothing to say, a story finds me. I enjoyed this “almost story” today!

  8. I’m fascinated by this. Can’t imagine being able to drive and see sea lions, at least not anywhere but the zoo in Denver! Glad you just sat and enjoyed them.

  9. This is a really interesting post for what it says about writing and stories and how the pieces that become pieces actually work within us. I find there’s something really unpredictable and hard to pin down about what I end up writing. I have a big list of ideas for writing–and often have an experience where I think yes, I can write this, this will be a Slice. But then I sit down to do it, and it’s not. Sure, I could spin the story. I mean, I know how to write. But it ends up being something I don’t want to invest my time in. It doesn’t feel like it needs to be told. I think that’s what I’m always looking for–something that needs to be told. For me, slices really aren’t waiting around every corner as they seem to be for some writers. I really struggle to turn a lot of those sliceable moments into something I want to publish on my blog. But to get back to the sea lions–so awesome! I’d be pretty excited to see those at the ocean too!

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