The flip-flop's on the other foot
In reviewing a cache of photos on my phone recently, I was reminded of a trip to the coast at this time last year and an experience that was humbling in its aftermath, a reminder to quash the human instinct to judge others without knowledge of their experience.
In total, I've lived close to the sea for more than 25 years, in three different states. I know what a tsunami warning sounds like, I know not to approach a sea lion napping on a dock, and I know I need a license to dig clams on the shore.
As an outlander, you should know that every time you go to the beach and take your Prius on the sand during high tide or let your children climb on logs near where the waves wash up or take home that pretty starfish, a local has seen you and is judging your foolish behavior.
It's kind of the unofficial pastime of coastal residents: First they take your money while you recreate, then they judge your boorish and stupid behavior.
And I was no different. I shook my head at the tourists licking ice cream while streaming across road intersections against the crossing light and tsk-tsked the parents who let their children throw rocks at seabirds looking for food along the shore.
As a journalist working in a coastal city, I frequently was out reporting on news events involving marine wildlife, and hence I knew that it was common for tourists to come upon seal pups on the beach and panic, sure the poor tyke had been abandoned or Captain Ahab had killed its mother.
More than once I was assigned the warning story of the week: Don't interfere with nature. Mother seals leave pups on shore to feed and will return. Back away from the seal pup.
And more than once I wrote stories about visitors from Portland or The Dalles who "rescued" a seal pup and brought it back to their motel room before jumping on their phone to find someone to take it.
As a local, I knew who would take it. The Marine Mammal Stranding Network is a collection of coastal residents trained to respond in cases of mammals onshore, whether it's a beached whale or a lone pup needing to be saved from do-gooding Valley residents.
In cases of pups on the beach, typically network volunteers deploy to find the animal and post signs around it warning passers-by to stay away so the mother can return to its baby.
So imagine my surprise when my husband and I were walking along the shore last winter and stumbled upon the cutest, most defenseless-looking seal pup. My first instinct was "I have to do something!"
In my defense, it was a busy stretch of shore where cars were allowed and knowing — in my former coastal-judge way — the manner visitors tend to speed along the flat sections of beach without a care, I knew it was in danger.
The pup, which barely could move onshore, was at risk not just of "rescue," but also of being hit by a speeding car.
So I called a friend who was a member of the network and was told there was no one available to come out and post warnings around the pup. I agonized and paced around the animal while my husband expressed amusement at this role reversal. Now I was the meddling coastal visitor.
I walked away from the pup and scanned the water, willing the mother to come. After some time pacing and waiting, I took action and enlisted my husband. We dragged large chunks of driftwood from the high tide line and plunged them upright into the sand. We ringed the pup with these posts, which we hoped would deter cars on the beach.
One problem addressed. Now, what about the misinformed rescuers? A narrow driftwood stick made a handy writing tool and we scrawled a message in the sand warning people to stay away. That should work until high tide, at which point I fervently hoped the mother would have returned.
We continued on our walk, as I mulled my previous attitude regarding judgment of inland visitors. After all, I knew the right protocol to protect wildlife on the shore and I was still tempted to interfere — think of those outlanders who didn't understand marine mammal behavior. A pup on the beach with no parent around surely needed to be rescued, right? Of course, they'd think that.
However, none of these revelations help me understand why people on vacation insist on pouring into the road against traffic signals, chins tipped to the sky as they gawk and take photos.
There's no excuse for that foolishness.
Leslie Pugmire Hole is editor of the Wilsonville Spokesman and West Linn Tidings.
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