Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Clouds and bergs, bergs and clouds

From Jenny Diski's Skating to Antarctica (and thanks to Dorothy for reminding me this book existed and prompting me to hie myself to the library and snatch it from the shelf and read it myself):
People from the boat called them ugly, but that doesn't quite catch the aesthetic disaster of the elephant seal. It is more that they are utterly ill-suited for this planet. They might, it occurred to me, have been dropped or fallen from an alien vessel and landed - splat - as we saw them, on the sea shore, to do the best they could in difficult circumstances. Gravity bore down on their enormous bulk (a big bull seal can be up to twenty-two feet long), in the same way that large stones are piled up to squash pressed beef. A grey jellied mountain results, whose sides slope down to their inadequate-looking flippers. One more stone on the pile of gravity and the whole strained substance would rupture, exploding flesh and blubber through its skin for miles around. They lay around as if exhausted, which I suppose they were, their relatively small heads sunk wearily on the black sand. The females and babies had the anthropomorphic advantage of huge, round wet eyes which rolled wide open as someone passed them by, with a fatigued but appealing look as if to say "Can you imagine?" The cows and pups turned on to their stomachs to scratch their bellies idly with the claws at the end of their flippers, so you began to think, "Well, maybe it's not so bad." The bulls didn't roll; the attempt to move their mountain of flesh would probably have burst their hearts. And while they might have just as corny eyes, I hardly noticed them because of my disbelief at the sight of the truncated trunks from which they get their name. Elephant seal is one of those euphemistic names humans give creatures who remind them of what they don't want to be reminded of. If an honest name were to be given, they would be flaccid penis seal, because the wrinkled concertinaed length and the bobbing, swinging floppiness of those extended noses is a satire on the male reproductive member.

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