Drift Dive

Elephant seals can dive to a depth of more than a mile, and stay below for an hour or longer, on a single breath. The seals roll over on their backs and spiral towards the bottom of the sea in a slow descent known as a drift dive.

Our guide described the motion as resembling the fluttering of a leaf falling to the ground.

As they descend, the elephant seal’s lungs collapse. The oxygen is transferred to their spleen and then routed to the animal’s muscles, digestive tract, heart, and brain as needed.

Scientists believe the seals use the long dive to rest and process their food. Their gentle decent makes them less noticeable to predators.

That bright February morning at Ano Nuevo State Park was a lifetime ago.

I had tacked on the visit to see the seals during their breeding season on the recommendation of the ranger at Big Basin National Park, where I had hiked the day before.

There was one other person on the tour, a woman from New York City visiting her daughter at Santa Cruz. We spent three hours together, talking and observing the clamorous colonies of elephant seals.

Our guide explained that outside of the breeding season, both the male and female seals are solitary creatures. Alone, they spend between 250 and 300 days a year at sea.

On the walk back to the parking lot, the woman told me that she and her daughter had a troubled relationship. She confessed that when she arrived at the dorm, her daughter did not want to see her after all.

She came to visit the elephant seals instead.

In the six weeks since I returned from California, the entire world has gone into a free fall.

I wonder if the woman, like me, takes comfort in the indelible image of the elephant seals drifting, leaf-like, toward the bottom of the sea.

Resting. Processing.


The Clipping Gene

When I was in college, my grandmother would send me twenty-five dollar checks along with newspaper clippings. There was always a handwritten note with the unarticulated, but deafeningly loud suggestion, that the included articles, if read and followed, would keep me safe and change the direction of my life for the better.

What remains with me, almost four decades later, is a low-grade uneasiness when I’m in a flat-roofed building during a storm.

Sheltering-in-place with three of our children, and more frequent phone conversation with our oldest in California, has awakened my clipping gene.

Clearly, I have arrived at the precise genetic algorithm of age, nature, and nurture.

It’s undeniable; I have a biological urge to share valuable information about positive life skills with my children. I can convince myself that sheltering-in-place is the natural time for these helpful discussions.

With each passing day of confinement, it becomes more difficult to thwart my salmon-up-stream desire to share fun facts, graphs, and gentle suggestions. This urge is most potent when our kids at home are staring into screens while surrounded by mountains of laundry and bio-hazard dirty dishes.

But the real trigger is my twenty-year-old son, home from college with his newly adopted puppy. I rationally understand that he is an adult, and I have no business giving him unsolicited advice. I genuinely want to honor that boundary.

But I can’t help myself.

Just seeing him stand outside, waiting for his Uber Eats delivery, makes me want to find my scissors for the article I read in Science magazine on the post-teen frontal cortex.

The clipping part of my brain is old school and sees no value in emailing or texting. Real knowledge must be in a tangible form, something that can be held and put in an envelope.

I’m thankful for our printer.

Sheltering-in-place makes the clipping process much more immediate, leap-frogging the postal service completely.

I’m thinking of placing a corkboard in a shared space, like the downstairs bathroom. I will start with innocuous inspiring quotes, pictures of the family, and a listicle or two.

Who doesn’t want to read a fascinating, life-altering article while sheltering-in-place?


“Then there are those who plant. They endure storms and all the vicissitudes of the seasons, and they rarely rest.” Paul Coelho

Sitting at my makeshift desk in the dining room, I learn that the shelter-in-place order for Austin is a sure thing. I immediately remember the tomato plants in the back of my minivan.

There are only a few people at the community garden when I arrive. We uncharacteristically ignore each other, mindful of our uncertain covid-19 status.

I carry the tray of tomato plants, carrot seed packages tucked between the containers, along freshly wood-chipped paths separating the plots. The sun feels like summer, but the showy neon green of spring is everywhere.

Summer will have its turn soon enough.

My plot needs more work than I remember. It will take several hours rather than the thirty minutes I had planned. On second thought, I am thankful for the project.

I am not predisposed to sheltering-in-place.

In-place sounds impossible. I imagine pre-dawn escapes to the trail to slow my breathing.

My friend Terri says that an earnest gardening effort reflects a certain level of mental stability because of the enormous patience and delayed gratification required.

It’s always more sacrifice than expected at the onset.

She believes that a garden reminds us of life’s relentless forward momentum.

A practice of giving without guarantees.

I think about her words as I pull weeds, pour the orange oil and molasses mixture on fire ant mounds, and harvest the last of my red chard and kale to make room for the tomato plants.

I water the tomatoes carefully. It is stressful to be planted.

Be well world.