Monday, April 30, 2012

Zoomorphism

my A to Z - every day of the challenge I will find a word by flinging my finger into my American Heritage Dictionary and then riff on it. The posts may be essays or poems or stories or memories. Who knows what will happen when we give Serendipity her wanton way?

Zoomorphism - n. 1. The attribution of animal characteristics or qualities to a god. 2. The use of animal forms in symbolism, literature, or graphic representation.

The other day I was on my way to work. I'm an engineer at Public Works. We're responsible for major capital projects as well as maintaining, inspecting, and reviewing construction and repairs associated with municipal infrastructure. We also work at maintaining the pathways and smaller bridges that are part of the extensive green-space of the city. Usually I'm buried in work at my desk - looking at the bidding process for various work, analyzing the data that is brought to the department - desk work. I've been at Public Works since I finished university - some thirty years now.
On the day that I'm talking about I passed by, as I do every day, a small park that borders the harbour in the south-end of the city. I knew that I would be driving the desk for the next several weeks as we had a major project in the works - a new approach to the traffic overload in the downtown core - and so I spontaneously decided to be late for work. I thought I could tell the City Engineer, should she ask, that I had merely stopped to check out a new feature of this park. The truth was I wanted to breath in the fresh spring air and put off my responsibilities and duties, if only for a short time. I say this ruefully but I would like you to understand that this is in no way characteristic of me. In fact I have no idea where this impulse came from but I decided not to ignore it. What could it hurt?
Being the morning rush hour I found myself to be the only one in the small parking lot. Sometimes, it has been my experience, police vehicles pose at the top of the sharply graded road to the park - it is a prime spot to catch people as they speed up the road that leads from the rotary into the city. Today, as I said, it was empty. I locked up my hybrid car and went down the path that led to the pleasant park.
The day was a splendid one, the temperature 18 degrees C. (64.4 Fahrenheit). The park was blooming, heavily planted with forsythia, a plant I don't usually think of as that useful but I must admit its colour did cheer me up. I went down to the small stony beach which can't be seen from the road.  I don't know what I intended to do - I suppose I was being childish but I'd found of late that I felt somewhat repulsed at the thought of my usual routine.
I'm not sure what it would be like to be married but one thing I have noticed over the years is that those men who have wives are sometimes pulled out of their routine. They tell me that they envy my bachelor status and I might agree with them for most things except...well I suppose my niece Jenny would tell me that I'm having an existential crisis. She's in university, taking psychology and likes to analyze anyone she observes for longer than a minute. I think what happens to these married men is that their wives insist that they go on vacation or they have a baby and the man must, in this new world, take paternity leaves to bond with their offspring. I take two weeks off every September and travel to Edmonton to spend time with my elderly parents. I suppose it isn't exactly a vacation but I do enjoy playing whist with them and doing odd repairs and so forth on their bungalow. Last year I fixed their deck.
At any rate, all this is to say that perhaps I was having some sort of breakdown. Work had been very difficult and the only person I spent any time with, an old friend from Engineering school days, had retired from his job and moved to Australia.
I sat on one of the largish boulders on the shore and looked out the bay. And that is when I saw it. It was a harbour seal, not uncommon for this part of the world. I'd seen them in the bays of the region from time to time but this was different. It was on the rocks and it seemed to be distressed. It made small barking noises and looked at me with its big round eyes - Jenny would call them 'Paul McCartney eyes'. She is very fanciful.
I got closer and noticed that the seal - I'd say it was a young one by its size and colouring - was entangled in something - fishing line I supposed - although there would be none of that in the city harbour so where it came from was a mystery to me. The thing was that the poor thing was severely hampered in its freedom. What could I do? Lest you think seals are cute pet-able creatures let me assure you that they are not. Brigitte Bardot be damned, a young adult seal weight nearly 300 pounds and can be quite aggressive.
It looked at me.
I looked back.
And that is when I had what my niece would call a spiritual epiphany. I can only describe it as a moment where I saw that both the seal and I were the same. We were trapped uncomfortably by circumstance. I could do something - it would inconvenience me but I could do something.
I say with some sadness that I shook that feeling off. It simply wasn't practical.
I went back up to the car. I would phone the wild-life people. Then I could get in my car and go to work. They would come - maybe not right away but they would come. I was fully planning to do this when I saw my emergency kit in the back seat. I grabbed the box and went down to the beach again. It took a bit of thought but I used the blanket that came with the kit to cover the seal's head - it calmed the creature down and truthfully I think it was on the last reserves of its energy. I had one of those multi-tools in the kit and it included a fair-sized knife-blade. I used it to slice through the fishing line. I had some moments where I wondered why I was doing this. For one thing I ruined my good shoes in the surf, but I kept going. I believe that the animal agreed to assist me by keeping still. I know that doesn't make sense but none the less - I do believe it. When I had cut the last of the line away I pulled the blanket off and scrambled back up the beach. The seal was still for a few moments and then it began to move into the water.
And no, it didn't turn to look at me or anything ridiculously Disney like that. It just was there and then gone.
What did I do about it? Nothing huge. I didn't quit my job or go on an online-dating service. No. I merely told them at work that I was going on an early vacation. I'll stay long enough to see the traffic project through and then I'm going to Scotland. To hike and commune with nature. Jenny gave me this journal to write in. She says it will help. I'm not sure how but I'll give it a go.
-30 -


Dear Readers - I did it! I am happy with my results - I wrote 26 unique and distinct stories - some were memories or based on memories, there was one poem, but most were complete little fictions born of the word I found at the end of my finger. I didn't cheat once and believe me when I tell you - I wanted to! I like the variety of voices that I found and the kernels of perhaps longer stories.
It was a good palate clearing for me too as I've started sending out my query packages for True. Nice to be a completely different realm.
What I didn't do was get around to many sites. I simply couldn't this month. I was away for almost two weeks and while I could post-date my posts (which I now can't thank you so much IMPROVED blogger!) I couldn't post-date my comments. So this is my plan. For 26 days in May I will go to other A to Zeders blogs and catch up on their entire month in one reading. I have no idea how far I will get. The nice thing is about doing this is that I can see how people's posts hung together. Perhaps I will feature one blogger a day. That would be fun. So thanks to you organizers - this was a fun exercise and just good to get that mental muscle working on a regular basis! For my stalwart fans - Margot and Liza in particular - let me know if you have a favourite story - I might take one or two further.

23 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Jan - Congratulations on having written some absolutely wonderful stories! This one included! What a great scene with that seal and what a good reminder, too. I hope you will consider taking some of these wonderful stories further 'cause I'd love to see you develop some of these.

Jean said...

You chose a wonderful approach for the challenge.

cleemckenzie said...

I was totally engaged in the story--from the contact between seal and human, through the decision process and finally the rescue. Well done.

Tracy said...

Jan, just by virtue of getting to the letter 'z' says a LOT! and well, so what if you didn't get around to many blogs, you wrote what you did and are pleased with yourself...good for you!
Now about that seal, I am even more impressed that you rescued that baby...good for you!

Liza said...

I have to say Jan that I am so impressed with this. I can't even imagine doing A-Z and here you are writing 26 different stories, and submitting a book AND working. This took real thought and effort and I want you to know that I am standing up applauding! When I get a chance I will go back through. I remember there was one in particular I'd love to see "go further."

Best!

Liza

Masquerade Crew said...

I'm still going to be visiting people for the A to Z Challenge in May. Too many blogs, too little time.

What a great way to come up with writing material: randomly point to a word in a dictionary.

I have one suggestion for you site. I would put a space in between paragraphs. Crammed together as they are makes it hard to read on a computer screen.

Happy writing!

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