Up Close…but please, not too personal…Story & Photos by John Vonderlin

John Vonderlin asks: Is this a good idea?

Story & Photos by John Vonderlin

Email John ([email protected])

Hi June,

When I visited my daughter and her family, who were vacationing in Santa Cruz yesterday, we made the obligatory trip to the Municipal Wharf, from her nearby hotel.. Though when I got lost cutting across town while driving to the hotel, I found you get less blank stares if you ask for directions to the Santa Cruz Pier instead of the Municipal Wharf, no matter what the tourist signs say..
Having walked to the end of the pier, surveying the endless varieties of proffered geedunks and tourist geegaws  as we strolled along, we stopped to enjoy  the expansive views of the Boardwalk, beach and waterfront and the resident slacker sea lions hoisted up on the network of timbers connecting the pilings like giant browned bratwursts on a grille. .
The pelican walking placidly along the wharf amongst the crowd, even while being swarmed by endless excited tourists armed with digital cameras, was the only thing different from previous visits.  I was able to resist capturing this decidedly unnatural scene, by summoning up the kind of will-power necessary to not become a “Looky-Loo-er” when passing the aftermath of a spectacular wreck on the freeway.
Continuing our stroll landward, I noticed a small group of people clustered at the landing above a stairwell down to the water level. Peering over them, I saw there was a small platform, just inches out of the water, at the bottom of the stairs. Peacefully lounging on that platform was a horde of sea lion pups, thirteen I think, with one adult babysitter,
just a few feet from the bolder kids gawking at them. In fact several children, seemingly without parental supervision, ventured out on the platform, talking about touching the pups, but chickened out when the adult babysitter gave them a baleful look.  I mentally added this to my “Insane Tourist Behavior” memory file, but muscled by the little wharf-rats, and got myself the best set of “up close and personal” photos of sea lions I’ve ever taken. (Unless I count my large collection of photos of dead sea lions in my ISeeDeadThings file)
I must admit after shooting dozens of shots of the sea lions lounging, stretching and scratching, I thought how great it would be to have a shot of the faces of the caution-less kids when the adult sea lion babysitter unleashed an explosive bark and made a faux charge at them for foolishly approaching too close. It’s probably just as well, as I would have had sneaker tracks across my face and trampled body when the stampede was over. Of course that would have made a great photo too. Especially at the civil  trial suing the city for promoting interaction between children and wild animals. Enjoy. John