Religion between friends

If I were to go one step further west I would get wet, very wet. Alice Loenberg from over at Fairweather Cove sits next to me and we both stare out…

If I were to go one step further west I would get wet, very wet.

Alice Loenberg from over at Fairweather Cove sits next to me and we both stare out at Sitka Harbour.

Alone, on top of a great mound of rock, we sit quietly in the rain, and wait. I have been counting harbour seals in great numbers as they move through the cove in search of herring.

A few days ago the whole harbour seemed to be milky with roe but today it’s clear. The number of seals will drop off.

I have been here every day for a week now and often Alice comes down and brings me fresh baked cookies. She has lived in the cove since 1938 and she wears it well.

At times I look over at her and her silver-grey hair seems to wash away into the heavy sky. Her words come out in a rhythm that is in sync with the roll of the waves. I am aware of the fact she sees more in this cove than I do.

Yesterday we counted 12 harbour porpoises 100 metres out. But two of them, she informed me, were actually Dall’s porpoises.

They roll more quickly, she said, and when they come up for air they spray forward. Other than that, you can’t tell ‘em apart.

She sometimes gets them wrong, but then again some days her eyes are better than others. Cataracts are like fog she says, moves in moves out.

I feel comfortable enough with Alice now to tell her what’s on my mind. When we move off the rocks and under cover of a Sitka spruce to get out of the rain, I unload.

The pope has lost touch with spirituality and people should no longer follow him I tell her. I tell her about his recent rant on Europe’s declining population.

Europeans aren’t breeding like they should. Numbers are way down and according to the pontiff, “One must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history.”

He rambled on.

“Besides putting economic growth at risk, (population decline) can also cause enormous difficulties for social cohesion, and, above all, favour dangerous individualism, careless about the consequences for the future.”

I tell Alice that what he really means to say is that Catholicism is under the gun.

When I get off the rocks and back to the house, I look it up. European women are only having on average 1.23 children, down from 1.67 20 years ago.

Later that night I feel bad about unloading on Alice, but darn it, our staggering population is putting the planet at risk.

We have managed to breed ourselves into a box and now there is no way out. Some scientists maintain the planet can only adequately support half of what we have now.

Even with the numbers the pope is throwing around, by 2050 we will need to find food and water for another 3 billion.

Alice doesn’t come to the rocks today and I count seals in solitude — 28 seals and four orcas.

Numerous glaucous-winged gulls bob on the surface of the water cleaning up what the eagles have missed.

Interspersed with these gulls are a few glaucous gulls. It is hard for me to tell the difference between the two gulls at a distance but the glaucous gulls don’t have as much grey in the tail.

A few pigeon guillemots, with their distinctive white wing patch, sail by like dark shadows just above the water. They quickly turn and head straight west and out to sea.

It begins to rain steadily now and I move in under an umbrella of spruce. I feel out of sorts without Alice and I worry.

It’s Wednesday now and out my window I see Alice heading down to the rocks. I quickly fill a thermos, grab my binoculars and head out into the rain.

She is up under the trees, silver hair melding into the sea. She sees me and smiles.

“So nice to see you,” I say.

“I feel bad about the other day. When I went home, I looked through my notes and found something you might like, a quote from a writer Charles Elton. He says there is more ecology in the Old Testament or the plays of Shakespeare than in most of the zoological textbooks ever published.

“Maybe I should reread the good book,” I mutter.

“Don’t read it on my account,” she says.

“I brought cookies,” she boasts and slides a tin in my direction.

“I brought coffee,” I tell her.

“Well, turn loose of some,” she says.

She takes a sip and then gets to her feet. “There, you see ‘em: seals about 200 yards out. I can see like a bird today,” she says. “Last few days couldn’t make out the side of the garage.”

We sit next to each other and the rain comes down heavy; the two of us, four eyes, looking for seals.

Not much to say, so we don’t.

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