A seal of approval

I wrote this in February for my creative writing class. As Harris seems to have happened so long ago, this might be the only written post about it that I might have.

When I was a kid, the first toy I remember always having was a brown, formerly fluffy stuffed seal called Üljes (‘hüljes’ meaning seal in Estonian). It wasn’t a nice looking toy but it was my favourite.  It had belonged to my sister Liina before it became mine. Liina being 10 years older than me, had outgrown it by the time I discovered it, so there was never a fight over the possession of our seal. By the looks of it, Üljes had been much loved before I got it. It was missing all its whiskers and due to a hole towards its back end, it was also missing quite a bit of the stuffing. I suspect it might have been fluffy once upon a time but by the time it became mine, it had lost all the fluff. As a toy, it looked pretty grubby but I loved it more than anything else. 

I don’t know whether it’s because of Üljes but seals as animals bring me inexplicable amount of joy. I always loved seeing them swimming around in their pool in Tallinn Zoo as a kid and as an adult. I could have watched them for hours.

In autumn 2017 I was visiting a friend in Southern California and she took me to La Jolla beach near San Diego. La Jolla is famous for its resident sea lions and seals that come to rest and sunbathe on the rocks there. I was so giddy as I carefully tried to negotiate the rocks to sneak just a little closer to the sleeping beasts without disturbing them. I think the phrase “best day of my life” was uttered by me more than once.

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In January, before going to Isle of Harris in Scotland, I googled whether there were any seals to be seen on the island and I was excited when I found out the answer. All the stress that came with the preparations for the trip was hopefully going to be rewarded with sightings of seals!

On Wednesday, my first full day on the island, I joined the Monk for a walk up Caepabhal and round the headland. No seals were spotted but then again it would have been unrealistic to have expected to meet one on top of a hill or chilling out on a high cliff. We did, however, meet a man who despite his Southern English accent claimed to be a local. The Monk settled into conversation but I only really wanted to know one thing, “Are there any seals to be seen at this time of year?” His pessimistic answer absolutely crushed my hopes for the week on Harris.

That evening after I told Newbs the devastating news, he patted me on the shoulder and asked if I was okay. I answered no. I was genuinely disappointed that the fellow on the beach had sounded so sure about seals not being around in January. He seemed to know what he was talking about.

Despite it all, Harris was magical, with or without the seals. The mixture of snow, blue skies, wild mountains and turquoise ocean was medicine for the soul. After a few days of adventuring in the hills with the boys, on Saturday we all headed out in our different directions. My plan was to head from the cottage in Rodel to the shore and make my way up it towards Lingarabay. It was another sunny day and unlike the boys, I had no rush to get back to the house in time for rugby.

I leisurely made my way from one headland to another by picking up little sheep trods here and there. I stopped to watch the waves crash into some of the cliffs and to admire the view of the snow-covered mountains of Skye on the horizon. I sat down and had my lunch of snacks by a little frozen loch and listened to the ice crack as it tried to push the boundaries of the loch. The air was so fresh with a hint of salt. When I looked around, I could not detect any signs of civilisation around me.

Left to my own devices, my anxiety tried to cloud my head with its usual worries about everything and nothing. I got up and kept walking, negotiating slippery rocks and tufts of heather to keep my mind occupied with other things but I struggled to quiet it down completely. Coming round a headland, I was approaching an old croft, now standing stripped from roof and windows, built by a sheltered bay, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I had a nosey around it, imagining what it would be like to do it up and live there among the heather and sheep.

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Coming across the house meant I could pretty accurately place myself on a map and as it was afternoon already, I decided to start making my way inland towards the so-called Golden Road that would take me back to Rodel. I picked up a sheep track just by the bay and was carefully trying to avoid the ice rocks, when a noise from the sea distracted me. I looked to my right and saw a couple of dark heads swimming around down in the water. I sneaked a bit closer to the edge and rested on a rock. I’m short-sighted and stubborn about wearing glasses unless I’m driving, so I was struggling to see clearly who they were. Could they be seals? But the man on beach had said there were no seals….

At first I played down my hopes and thought that maybe they were otters, which would still make it an exciting sight. I was in the middle of making my mind up, when I heard a noise down in the water much closer to where I was sitting. I looked for a source of the sound and suddenly an otter popped its head out from under the water just by the shore, looked at me for the briefest of moments in what I can only imagine to be complete surprise, and disappeared back under the water. The animals in the middle of the bay were much bigger. That’s when I knew: the three heads surfacing from the sea here and there were seals.

I sat down and just watched in awe for a couple of minutes as the three seals swam around the bay. I started to make out their dark shadows when they were underwater and even caught a glimpse of a tail or two when they dived in. I took out my camera, careful not to make too much noise, and snapped a few photos for proof. I then texted the boys that I have found seals and that they shouldn’t expect me back in the cottage too soon. Unsurprisingly, I only received abuse regarding my eye sight in reply.

I felt so privileged to witness the seals swimming around. I had a huge grin painted on my face and I had to make a conscious effort not to giggle out loud. Compare to what I witnessed in California, this was a much more intimate show. Apart from a couple of sheep that looked confused about my presence, there was no one else around. It was just me and the seals. In that moment, I forgot about everything else.

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I must have sat there for about half an hour just watching those graceful swimmers go round the bay. One of them had hurled itself on top of a rock in the middle of the bay while the other two continued to circle around it. One of them swam quite close to me at one point and like the otter, quickly dived in the water again when it realised what it was looking at. Eventually I had to admit that I was getting cold and reluctantly, I got up and started moving again. I tried to tread carefully so as not to disturb the seals. It was their home and I was the intruder.

That half an hour in company of the seals was definitely the highlight of my trip. To have seen my favourite animals in the wild meant the world to me. People often think I’m joking when I talk about seeing seals and I can’t really explain why I like them so much. The only explanation that has any logic is my Üljes. A few years ago, my mum was going through the various cupboards at home and found it again. As far as old toys go, it was one of the worst looking in the bunch. In her newly found habit of decluttering, she was planning to throw it out. Luckily before she could do that, Liina saw it and rescued our toy. Üljes now lives with her, untouched by her children for whom it’s just a grubby old seal.

Time off

I am having a week off from work in the middle of the season and I am struggling to figure out what to do with myself. I have a houseful of guests who don’t really need looking after, I have a phone that occasionally rings and a few emails popping into the inbox, but other than that, I am free to do what I want.

I am not very good at switching off at the best of times but after intense couple of weeks, this newly found freedom is almost unsettling. I feel like I should do it all but I am also lacking in energy to do anything. Today is the third day off and I feel the most tired and just want to curl up on a sofa and watch TV all day long. But I also feel like I shouldn’t do that because that would be such a waste of my time off that is a rare thing this time of year.

I live in a beautiful part of the world; one of the most beautiful, if you asked me, but I might also be slightly biased. I should be out there, exploring it, capturing it with my camera. Instead, my boots are looking the cleanest they have since I got them and still waiting for me to take them for a walk. I had great plans of escaping to the hills and go wild camping for a night, or two, but I’m struggling to get my head around doing that. I am also supposed to be running 10K in a couple of weeks but I need to trick myself into going for a runs to prepare by buying new running gear. In my head, I know I should be doing this as I haven’t ran at all since spring due to various injuries but I’m just finding it difficult to feel any joy or enthusiasm about all these things.

I also feel that because I have time, I should be working on a few things that I normally don’t have time for like the webpage and blog for work as well as our new booking system that still needs a lot of attention. However, I just barely answer the emails and check on bookings that are coming in. I should be working on this blog and putting the ideas I have into words but I am verging away from that as well. (This was not the blog post that I’ve been wanting to write!) There’s raspberries and gooseberries to be picked in the garden, jam and cakes to be made and baked but so far I only gathered a handful to go with my porridge this morning. I should be doing yoga for my back ache and so some intervals but so far I’ve only considered taking ibuprofen for the pain.

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I’ve been offered a free ticket to a big-ish music festival just a couple of miles from the door and it’s hard work convincing myself to actually go. Even if the offer comes with possible free drinks from the bar on site (perks of accommodating the bar staff at the guesthouse). I will probably go at least for one or two days, because I would regret missing it but I don’t feel as excited about it as I should.

Although I argued in the last post that I want to be more than what I do, I must admit that I am feeling slightly lost without work and it’s inevitable routine. I do enjoy being able not wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning and head straight to the kitchen for work and going to bed before 10 o’clock at night. But it’s the time in between that I am struggling to fill. I’ve been left to my own devices, house- and cat sitting for my employers in their beautiful home. But I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel like I’m letting myself down by not doing all these things that I’ve listed above.

I have been struggling lately with all sorts of demons and it’s probably them who are holding me back and sucking on my energy at the moment as well. But I am too tired to fight them and just try to keep them at bay.
Being a bit of a hermit, I hate to admit it, but I feel lonely and find myself missing company. I thought that after weeks of dealing with guests, I’d welcome the chance to see no one but this seems not to be the case.

It is Tuesday and I don’t have to be back at work till this time next week, so I have time to get over myself and go out to play. I have managed to cross off a few things on my list: I have spoken to the guy in Scotland who has my passport and who can meet me in Paisley before I’m flying to Estonia in a couple of weeks. I have booked my fights for Christmas and New Year which I am spending at home this year. I have sorted out my train tickets to go to Glasgow. I have got my hair cut and I love it. I have been for a short run. I’ve ordered a tent and a camping stove online. I have written this post. I have been keeping away from chocolate and alcohol… okay, that’s a lie. But I have limited the intake of both of them.

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Saturday night wasn’t for limiting my alcohol intake with a beer festival happening in the village and the Monk being my company

These are all tiny victories. Although they don’t exactly make me feel great about myself, they definitely mean something. Even if only that I am not a complete waste of space. I might even take my boots and my camera for a sunset walk to my magic place, Swindale (if it’s not exactly chucking it down by then).