Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007 | A break from politics for once, I’d like to talk about howler monkeys.

Could they have named that particular species of primate anything more frightening?

A decade ago, or so, I was in Costa Rica, in a bed, staring up at the ceiling wondering what the horrifying noise was that I was listening to. It sounded roughly as though a monster, an angry monster, a father, perhaps an alcoholic monster, was chiding his young monster son for some act of indiscretion. When I woke up and they told me howler monkeys were making the noise, I didn’t feel any better.

I hadn’t seen one, but the word “howler” made them even more terrifying. “Howler” made them seem deranged. I’m not scared of ghosts or goblins or demons or trolls (OK maybe trolls), but I will say I’m as scared as anyone of lunatics. And crazy monkeys that can make the sounds I heard were enough to really floor me.

It wasn’t long before I saw one, though, and realized I could probably beat him up. Maybe he would scratch me a little or something, but I didn’t need to worry. They should name all animals with references to lunacy and madness. Perhaps we’d leave them alone more.

Costa Rica had given me my first experiences with real wildlife. You know, the kind of moments in which you see an animal actually living as they prefer to live.

I had always loved the outdoors and lived in areas where you could hike and camp all you wanted.

But I had few experiences with animals that weren’t under my direct control or that of another human.

It seems like, though, over the past several years, I’ve been regularly running into wild animals.

There was the gigantic alligator in South Carolina who, from only a few yards away, slowly turned around, saw me shivering and stared deep into my soul while my dog, on the leash, panted and looked up at me wondering why we had stopped our walk.

I tried to get my dog to look up and see the freak lizard. I had to share the experience with someone. People in South Carolina had told us, repeatedly, that if you had to run away from an alligator, you should do it in zigzags because they can’t turn when they start running. This, while providing us a valuable tip, only made us wonder how often they had to do this and, of course, how fast alligators run.

This alligator was immense. I was thinking about a lot of things but mostly I imagined how I would run away — in zigzags — in such a thick forest with the dog on the leash.

I ended up just walking away. I mentioned the encounter to a park ranger. I didn’t know I had ratted out the alligator as they cordoned off the area and hauled her miles away.

I felt bad.

Then there was the skunk in Point Loma, whose tail was removed rather violently by my dog. Said dog did not smell the same for weeks.

And then there was Sunday, Feb. 11.

It was misting/raining in the morning but the wind didn’t seem to be that bad so we went surfing. It was dark but exciting. It turned out to be an unbelievable day.

Immediately, I realized I was surfing better than I ever had. The waves were big (for me) and smooth.

After one particularly great wave, I started paddling back out. No matter how much surfing I do, I always seem to get exhausted and my shoulders were strained and tired. As I crawled along, I saw a head come out of the water right in front of me.

You see these things surfing, I know. I’ve seen many seals and dolphins and sting rays. I know.

But this guy, a seal, had come up right in front of my face. And he had his eyes closed. He was going to run into me.

I yelled like I do at my dog.


He opened his eyes, stopped, looked at me for a second. I swear he shook his head. It was as if he were a businessman walking down the street in his hometown in the Bahamas and some tourist bumped into him disrupting his stride. He knows there are tourists around. He knows that he has to deal with them. But he’s not going to acknowledge them when they cramp his style.

So, we both paddled away. He seemed to have an easier time swimming but I was having more fun.

Then a full rainbow came out.

How am I not going to write about a day like that?

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