Once a sudden rise in sea level caught a pod of basking walruses off guard. The day this happened began as many before it had. The morning sky was clear. A gentle breeze played in and out of the brightening sunpools as the tide, having reached its low point, started to rise back over the sand and rocks. There was no cause to think anything might be amiss. In fact, it took some time before the walruses were even aware the water was not stopping at its accustomed high point but was continuing to rise. They first took notice when groups of seals and sea lions sunning themselves closer to the waves began disappearing from sight. But then, seals and sea lions were not walruses; walruses couldn’t be washed away so easily. As long as these others were the only ones in danger, the walruses felt little urgency about moving. And suppose a few of the young, restless walruses at the edge of the pod actually were being swept out to sea by the rising surf as well. Walruses can swim, can’t they? Sooner or later they were bound to resurface. Only they weren’t resurfacing. Not a single one. And as more and more slipped from sight, a growing uneasiness spread along the shore. With the water engulfing each new line of walruses, the next line took the threat more seriously, although a few lines farther back on the beach, that concern still faded into snoozing indifference. “What water?” the more complacent among the remaining walruses asked in semi-slumber, while others, slightly more alert, still could not imagine the rising tide would ever reach them. The entire episode was like a baffling calamity taking place on the evening news and continents away. When it finally dawned on the walrus pod as a whole that they were all in danger, alarm set in, and then full-blown panic. Up and down the beach, greatly narrowed now by the advancing waves, confusion drove the walruses against one another in lumbering disarray. An orderly response to the threat might have saved many of those trapped in the crush. So much time was lost in pushing back and forth amid wild bellowing, however, that it seemed not a single walrus would make it to safety. Soon the agitated struggle turned to accusations and rebukes as the walruses began to point flippers at one another, demanding to know who was responsible for having failed to sound the alarm. The sea rose and the accusing frenzy rose. Which one would claim the most victims in the end was anybody’s guess.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans