Saturday, August 10, 2013

In Search of Sea Otters

I love otters.  The flippers.  Their noses.  The soft, dense fur.  The speed and elegance with which they move through the water despite their cuddly appearance.  

And so, when we dropped anchor and floated near Sitka, I convinced Mom to de-boat, as she called it, on a tender and we boarded a smaller watercraft for a pricey fee but with a guarantee that we'd see wildlife.  An otter, whale or bear or we each would get $100.

And so we set off on the Sea Otter Express.  Settling inside the heated cabin, we arranged ourselves with binoculars and cameras and sighed over the beauty - the shades of blue, the multitude of islands, the forest.  

I smiled every time someone would gasp over a sighting - the fin of a whale or flight of an eagle or jumping of a random fish.  I soon grew antsy, impatient with the barrier between the animals and my camera, and zipped my sweatshirt and climbed up the narrow steps to perch on the open deck.  

There was a certain sort of wonder up there.  Of whimsy.  Of peace.  Breathing in the air that was the perfect cool-not-cold.  Feeling the wind tangle my hair as I sighed and searched the horizon for bumps on the water.

"That's an island," our guide noted when people took too many pictures of a small rock jutting from the water.  "We sometimes confuse it for a critter, but it isn't."

When we frowned our disappointment, he smiled and promised we'd find something alive to photograph.  And we did, slowing to follow an orca as she swept across the water near the surface, emerging so we could admire her white markings that just barely broke the surface.

We watched people fish for salmon in a sheltered cove.   I pondered the jellyfish - the giant gelatinous masses floating below the surface - and wrinkled my nose at them.  I focused my attention on the orange starfish that rested just below the surface.

"They're very tough creatures," our guide noted.  "Sometimes under water.  Sometimes above.  Sometimes hot in the sun.  Often frozen from the cold.  Subjected to salt in the ocean and fresh water from rain.  They just adapt."

So I admired that resilience until we sped away in search of the treasure - the otters I'd so wanted to see.

 "There they are," our guide noted.  "See those dots in the water?  There's a raft of them resting over there.  We'll try to get closer and hope they don't mind us watching them."

So we did.  And they didn't.

Utterly (otterly!) charmed, I took upwards of 40 pictures that are all a bit blurry.  You have to want to see the otters to truly appreciate these photos.  But they napped as they floated, occasionally one would grow curious and pop up to look at us.  Finding us acceptable, they would return to their supine position, tucking furry chin to sleek chest and resting once again.

 We floated there for long minutes, leaving only after we'd alerted the other tours and not wanting to form a crowd and cause the otters to depart.

"It's a humpback," the guide cried a bit later and we paused in open ocean in hopes of watching it dive.

And that's when I grew queasy.  The bobbing motion of the boat at odds with the gentle sway of the cruise ship to which I'd adjusted.  I blinked rapidly.  Focused on the horizon.  Sipped some peppermint tea while sitting back inside with my 'having a lovely time/not sick at all!' mother.

But as we lingered and rode the waves up and down and up and down, I swallowed against the nausea.  And when the kindly tour people offered salmon for a snack, I had to escape to the aft deck again.

"Salmon?" the guide asked as I stood there, clinging to the railing and trying to think of the otters who'd  made me so happy such a short time before.

"I will throw it up all over this boat," I replied and he looked closer and told me I was a bit green.  Patting the hand that clung to the railing, he promised it would pass and departed.  Leaving me to give myself hiccups in an attempt not to vomit.

"I was fine," Mom offered happily when she helped me up the ramp on the dock as my head was still swimming.  "I had a great time!"

I made a noise in response, found a soda and found that I rapidly felt better once the world stabilized around me.

A sea star, I am not.

But I do have otter pictures.  And because I want to see that they're otters, I do.  So now you can too.

Friday, August 09, 2013


(This is a photo from the aft deck en route to Alaska.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of this post.  But look!  Pretty!)

When I was in 3rd grade, we hung projects in the hallway that described what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I still recall mine - the wide-ruled notebook paper beside a hand-drawn picture upon which we posted a school photo of our faces.

Crayon-drawn Katie (with actual-photo head) was standing in a courtroom, emerging as a victorious lawyer from some undoubtedly critical case.  I had, after all, seen lawyers on TV and that's what I wanted to do.  Aid the downtrodden.  Give voice to the wrongfully accused.  Fight the power.

Then I grew up.

And met some actual lawyers.

And quickly adjusted my goals.

Now, some 25 years later (crap - can that be right?), I find myself with a fondness for most of the lawyerly with whom I'm acquainted.  They know big words.  They think with a certain clarity.  They ask interesting questions and can often distill complex situations into the most relevant points.

But have you met a corporate lawyer?

I have.  A few of them.

[Q: Are you able to define 'a few'?
A: I don't remember exactly.
Q: Do you know more than 1 corporate lawyer?
A: Yes.
Q: More than 2?
A: Yes.
Q: More than 10?
A: Probably not.
Q: So less than 10?
A:  I think so.
Q: More than 5?
A: Yes.
Q: More than 7?
A: Yes.  Eight, OK?  I've met eight corporate lawyers.
And that's why you want to stab yourself or others with a pencil during a deposition.  Because who cares?]
I will admit that sometimes that attention to detail - that application of knowledge and definition of fact and separation from opinion or interpretation - can be exquisitely useful.  When I have a complicated problem and need direction?

I call counsel.

Ah, but then...  They trick you into thinking they're lovely people.  Bright, funny, wonderful conversational companions!

So you start a conversation and ask for a simple contract to be drafted.  And even if you're not feeling super-great because August 13 is next week and you really, really miss your dad, you're trying hard to focus on work and get stuff done because that's a nice distraction.

And Lawyer 1 says, "Wait.  I don't think this is in scope of the procedure."

So you say, "No, no.  It is.  Blah, blah, explanation, blah, blah."

And Lawyer 2 (helpful tip from Katie - Never Let Lawyers Form Groups) gets all concerned and wants to Stop Everything while you look up the procedure and discuss the contract and examine the request and start from the very beginning again so we're sure we really understand.

Growing impatient, you look up the formal document and read it to your lawyer friends that you're starting to hate a little bit.  You explain the situation again.  In the middle of your explanation, maybe you use the wrong word.

And they pounce - both of them - voices going accusatory while they chortle between them in their lawyerly way and - even though you watch Law & Order reruns and know not to get upset or otherwise emotional - you do get upset and emotional.  And start to think you're wrong.  You're a terrible person.  Oh, this is awful - how you've willfully attempted to break the rules and ruin everything!  And you're sorry.  You'll start over.

But you keep thinking about it - on the drive to and from work, on your walks with your blind dog - and you realize that you're not wrong.  You may have misspoken but they're wrong.  And this wasn't on the record or written down.

So when you - well, when I - pushed back, I pushed back hard.  Explained my request again.  Indicated that if they thought I was out of order, they could prove it to me.  And until then - since we run a business - the time it took to escalate and get a decision (as corporate lawyers seem to really struggle to make decisions, bless their 'let's debate this some more' hearts) was going to be measured as 'legal delay.'

So now I feel mean - as they pointed out that it was uncharacteristic of me to 1) push back with such vitriol (my word - not theirs.  I know big words too!  I looked it up to make sure I was right but I had the general idea) and 2) demand others do work that I otherwise would have done myself.

I also feel ineffective as these lawyers will take months (and months) (and more months) to make this decision and I'm effectively halting my project because I'm pissy.

There's no good conclusion here - I'm standing my ground even if it is a bit shaky underneath me.  But I have two points.  1) If I had been a lawyer and ended up working for a large company, I would be much better at it.  And 2) I would like to request independent counsel.  I just need to find out how to  make sure said independent counsel if viciously efficient and effective.  I shall try to find someone from a television show.

Thank you.  Please see irrelevant photo of a glacier below.

Sunday, August 04, 2013


Preparing to mow the lawn yesterday, I wandered my main floor.  Smoothed sunscreen on my face.  Located my flip flops.  Informed Chienne that I would be outside.

It was then that I noticed a creature hopping around the white tile of my kitchen floor.

"Oh," I said, startled.

For while I have a dog and cat, I have not - in my long absence - added a bird to my brood.

Sprout, however, on an accidental (on my part - quite purposeful on his) adventure Friday night had apparently added to our family with his hunting treasure.

I believe the bird - little and gray - fought back and escaped my vicious feline and hid until he went to catch a nap in the sunshine.  Chienne and I have no killer instinct of which to speak - quickly scurrying from the house and closing the door, leaving the bird inside.

"That's not going to work longterm," I told my loyal hound before she abandoned me to sit outside in her yard.  I set about opening doors (with an absent hope that no other birds came in) and arming myself with a giant storage container and long stick to convince the bird (who may have had an eye dangling from its socket - I didn't look closely enough for definitive confirmation) to fly out the door he deemed most convenient.

I tapped the plastic container on the ground as I held it before me and may have said, "please go away, Mr. Bird."  But apart from that, I was quiet - sighing with relief after he took flight into the morning sky and going about to close the doors again.

I talked much more on the cruise to Alaska I shared with my mom (and 2,000 other older people - half of them Southern Gospel fans).  And I meant to post of it - at least to share some stunning photos of water gone green with glacial sediment in Tracy Arm or sea otters napping off the coast of Sitka.

But I came home and returned to work.  I click in different locations on different screens.  I sign and date and review and approve.  I have flashes of amusement or anger or general interest, but they soon pass and I drift back into the monotonous contentment that defines me of late.

"The ambition is gone," I told Sibling when she returned to visit last week.  "I keep waiting for myself to bounce back.  To awaken and feel strong and purposeful and like Katie again.  But I don't.  I haven't.  So I don't know what comes next."

So let's try photos from Alaska.  And see if I can at least find a less-silent rhythm here.