The First Scene
Between reed and willow-lined banks, clear waters of the stream flowed
northwesterly toward the sea. High winter waters had eaten away the banks of the
stream in places, forming crescent-shaped indentations that widened the stream
bed and produced deep backwashed. Bits of wood and leaves circled on the surface
of the backwashes until they sank to the bottom, waterlogged. On this unnamed
day unnamed because there were no men to use the names of gods for divisions of
time ducks and geese conducted their quacking and honking affairs on the surface
of a backwash and among the reeds that lined the banks.
Three olive-tan, 6-inch turtles sat in a line on a half-submerged log,
their legs and heads drawn in, their eyelids shut. Even when waves from a
rapidly swimming Canadian gander moved their log, the turtles remained immobile.
A female mallard spotted a thumb-size frog scrambling from the water onto
the log. Without a quack the duck rushed toward the amphibian. Several other
mallards instantly converged behind it. The duck neared the log barely ahead of
the competitors and, with an extra burst of speed, made a splashy jab at the
frog. Apparently this morsel of food was waiting until the last moment to make
its escape; it dived into the water inched ahead of the mallard’s open bill
and kept going until it buried itself among the leaves at the bottom.
The turtles, meanwhile, had opened their eyes without exposing their
heads. Not afraid of the mallards, they just sat; however, some of the ducks
failed to see the frogs disappear, and they swam about so wildly that the log
rolled over and the turtles slid beneath the surface. One of the reptiles swam
directly to the bottom and flushed the frog from its hiding place. Swimming
along, the frog saw the open jaws of a foot-long fish an instant before being
The fish’s dash for the frog stirred up rolling clouds fine, dark
sediments. Had the fish followed its usual pattern of behavior, it would have
continued swimming at considerable speed away from the point of capture. Its
failure to do so brought disaster.
For three days two seals had been swimming up the stream from the sea,
catching fish along the way. They entered the pool just as the turtles were
sliding into the water. Seals, it is believed, are less playful than otters, but
these two apparently saw at a glance possibilities for fun with the noisy ducks.
The strategy was obvious. Their glistening heads disappeared beneath the
surface, and with great speed they slithered underwater toward the birds. One
seal burst from the depths with joyous barks amid the panic-stricken birds,
which shot into the air in all directions.
The others seal saw through the clear water to its right the commotion
caused by the frog-catching fish. Instinctively, the seal slowly circled the
disturbed, murky area. It spotted in the darkness the white gullet of the fish
as the fish opened and closed its jaws. In a split second the fish was brought
to the surface held firmly in the seal’s jaws.