Once a sudden rise in sea level caught a pod of walruses off guard. The day 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 ebb, 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 height but was continuing to advance. They first started to take notice when groups of seals and sea lions sunning themselves closer to the waves disappeared from sight. But then, seals and sea lions were not walruses, and often took chances a walrus never would. If their risky lifestyle led to a bad end, it wouldn’t be surprising. Besides, 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 their own 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 didn’t. 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, that concern still faded into indifference. “What water?” the more complacent among the remaining walruses asked sleepily, while others, slightly more alert, still could not imagine the deadly 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 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 rebuke as the walruses began to fear each other as much as the waters that were threatening them. “You’re going in the wrong direction!” brought angry countercharges of “No, you’re the one who’s going to get us all killed!” Those not embroiled in the immediate turmoil reared back and thundered instead at the air above, or even at the sea itself. If they couldn’t haul themselves out of danger, at least they could sound off about who was to blame for it. The sea rose and the blind, accusing tumult rose. Which one would claim the most victims in the end was anybody’s guess.
Copyright © 2003-2004 by Geoffrey Grosshans