The boy and the seal

Sometimes you really want to show everybody what you’ve seen. And Elan really wanted me to put a story about him on my website. Perfect match.

My nephew really loves dogs. He can’t have a dog. He tells stories of the neighbourhood dogs and how they love him (love being the favourite topic of this very special little boy). And he has his relationship with the magical Bella, dog-mermaid, selkie-souled fur seal. Bella is, in seal years, close in age to Elan, and watching them play is one of my greatest delights.

She was found young, injured and without her mother, which means she wouldn’t survive a release back to the wild. So she needs playmates. Elan and I go to the zoo after school most Mondays, and yesterday when we arrived she was pacing her watery cage. But when Elan rushed to the window with my silk scarf bundled into a makeshift ball, she swam up to meet him. Elan throws her the ball; she races to catch it from her side of the glass. She dives and curls and lunges until she needs a breath, then she races to the surface and dives straight back down through a shower of sunlit bubbles. She cruises at speed, laying on her back, if you don’t mind, along the long wall of glass. It’s hard to fathom how she can swim so fast with just the merest flick of fin. Elan lopes along beside her. She somersaults to keep pace with bipedal slowness.

I am thrilled with these photos. It’s a sacrifice at the time, to draw away from the thrill of their play and into the screen, but I treasure these preserved moments between the two.

And I’m delighting in the memory of Bella in my body. After dropping Elan home, I went straight to contact improv dance, where I was excited to share my images, and then, I discovered, play seal. Rolling fast along the bodies of my dance friends, pulled and spun in a riot of joy across the floor, perhaps as close as I can get to seal body freedom.

I’m sore today. Us poor land mammals, my faux flying was not through pool but across boards, and there are bruises on protuberances, elbows and knees. A reminder of seal and her partial freedom, and in this world of limits and constrictions, learning from Bella to play whenever I can.

Scroll to Top