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Wastin' time 

The sun shines and the air fills our lungs with that peculiarly invigorating scent of dead fish and salt: lunchtime in Eureka. The Tyvek home wrap on Bayfront One (or, rather, Bayfront One Mk. II, a building crossing its metaphorical fingers that it will not be burned down before it has a chance to be built this time) whips this way and that in the wind as construction workers argue about nothing in particular. ("The last one was too small!" "Bullshit!") A few families and tourist couples traverse the boardwalk, while some natives take advantage of the sunny weather and eat their lunches outside. The world is occupied with the business of being the world.

The only thing out of place is the persistent sound of the five enormous seals sunning themselves on a dock in the Woodley Island Marina, barking fervently, their squonky cries echoing throughout Old Town like the impassioned speech of a stumping politician through a megaphone.

"Maybe they're mating," suggests one passerby.

And it very well could be: Harbor seals are not completely uncommon in Humboldt Bay, though their ardent barking seems to be.

"I used to live here for eight or nine years," says one boardwalk visitor who has since moved south. "And I never heard them."

And the seals continue: "Ark! Ark! Ark!" It's entirely plausible that these enthusiastic sounds have something to do with mating -- 'tis the season, after all. They may be announcing "I would like to mate!" or "I have just mated!" or even "I am mating right now!" although it's hard to make out what exactly they're doing over there on that dock, next to a big boat called the Mandy J. Mostly, when the seals aren't barking, they're simply slow-cooking themselves in the sunlight. The biggest one among them can't even be bothered to move.

Suddenly, a flock of seagulls makes a power play for ownership of the dock. Every seal but the laziest and largest dives for the water as the birds settle in, but continue their barking from the water, their ark-ark-arking, heckling the seagulls to leave them alone or inviting their indolent companion to swim -- come on in, the water's fine; you're aseal, for crying out loud!

Birds being birds, the seagulls get bored soon enough, and one by one the seals return to their perch, the inky oil-slicks of their bodies emerging effortlessly, amphibiously. The sun glints off their magnificent black skin as they stretch out again, quiet, it seems, for the first time, as they enjoy what many of us have come to enjoy about being here: the sheer contentment of having nothing in particular to do, and not having to do it in a place where the sun and land and sea, when they work their magic in equal measure, can make for one glorious afternoon.

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Joel Hartse

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