Extract from ‘Island’ – Amy Austen
Surprising things can happen when you’re alone. While on the island, Woody and I went kayaking – it wasn’t hard to teach ourselves; the kayaks were in the shed and the sea was a lake of barely perceptible swell. There was a slow, steady, rain, falling like warm nails into the water. It made a soothing hiss, and with this sound echoing in a silent mist, the sea was a magical place, as we dipped and pulled our way around the coast. At some points the water was so shallow our blades were tangled with streaming tentacles of seaweed, that grabbed and clung as we paddled.
Then we saw the seals. In the greyness of the water and the sky, they were a more defined grey, solid bubbles of flesh poking from the waters surface. They watched us from a distance, bobbing under and reappearing, and it must have been about half an hour before Woody got bored and paddled on to the shipwreck ahead. They must have considered me less of a threat, just a single kayak, because the seals started approaching, bobbing and reappearing ever closer. I sat, rain running into my eyes, and watched.
Before long, a particularly curious seal was surfacing less than six feet from my kayak. A dog-face, with long whiskers and the same dog-eyes that could beg for a bone. I could see the whites of his eyeballs, the gleam of intelligence as he checked me out. As interested in me as I was in him. This closeness to a wild creature, a pure slick beast of aliveness, unnerved me. I wanted to shout to Woody, tell him to come back and see this, but knew I couldn’t. It was just me and the seal, and that was it. I’ve often tried to tell people about the experience, but I don’t think it comes across. Something that can only be felt when alone is perhaps impossible to share, although I have tried here, on paper.