Wednesday, March 11, 2015

When is a Seal not just a Seal?...when it's an Irish Selkie!

"Harbor Seal" Photograph by Terry Wood (my talented brother!)
 'Tis the month we celebrate all things Irish, and having a husband with Irish ancestry, I'm happily wearin' a lot of the green and baking up the Soda Bread. Ireland is a country aglow with wondrous legend and lore so I am happy to share an excerpt from my novel, Sea Snow--the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse, in which a young Irish lad relates his story of the Selkie his family claims as part of its ancestry. Selkies are also known as Seal People, Silkies, and Kelpies-- those mysterious beings who are people in seal's clothing.

Excerpt from Sea Snow-- the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse:

July 29, 1898

…“Now,” I said, settling myself in front of him at the table, “just what is a selkie?”

 “Well,” he began, wiping his milk mustache away with his blue cotton sleeve, “some folks say my great-great-great-grandma was a selkie and that’s why we have this color hair,” he said, running a hand through his shock of thick, black hair.

 “Your great-great-great-grandma was a seal?”

 “No, no,” he said, laughing and shaking his head at my ignorance, “a selkie—there’s a big difference, you know.”

"Seals on Ice" Photograph by Terry Wood
 “Nope, I don’t know. Please explain, Danny.”

 “This is what Auntie Kate told me—it seems my great-great-great-grandpa was comin’ home late one night after a long day fishin’. He’d just pulled his boat up on the beach behind a pile of rocks when he heard them.”

 Danny paused to dip his cookie into his milk and bite off the dripping half. He sat there contemplatively chewing awhile. I waited.

 “He crawled up over the rocks and saw a big group of seals squirmin’ their way onto the beach—except they weren’t seals at all, ‘cause, one by one, their black skins split clear down the back and out stepped a man or a woman. The men were big and well muscled and the women were the most beautiful creatures he’d ever seen, with long, black hair hangin’ down their bare backs. The moon was full that night and he could see everything, nearly plain as day. As each selkie left its skin, it ran and joined the others—laughin’ and dancin’ in the sand.

"The Selkie" Photograph by Kathryn Louise Wood
“He saw one step out of her seal skin that took his breath away—her skin was the color of moonlight and her eyes were as dark as the night sea. As soon as she danced off with the rest of the selkies, Grandpa dashed over to the empty skin and snatched it. He hid it in a sack in the bottom of his boat beneath his fishin’ net. Then, he went back and peeked over the rocks at the selkies. He stayed there all night, watchin’ and waitin’.

“Just before dawn, when the air grew stiff and cold, the selkies made their way back to the sea’s edge to find their skins. They slipped back into them and launched themselves into the tide—lookin’ for all the world like an ordinary bunch of seals…all except for one. She searched and searched, racin’, wild-like, around the beach as her friends quietly departed. When they’d all left and she stood there alone, tremblin’ with fright, Grandpa walked from behind the rocks with his coat in his hand.

“ ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘I’ll take care of you, now.’

 “She stared at him with those shiny, black eyes, the sun just beginnin’ to lighten the sky. He saw her heave a great sigh and her white shoulders lower. She knew what had happened and, like all selkies, she resigned herself to her fate. Grandpa placed his coat over her bare skin and led her to his house. They were wed the very next day and she became a quiet and obedient wife, blessin’ him with five children.
"By the Sea" Photograph by Kathryn Louise Wood

“One day, many years later, she was diggin’ in her vegetable garden when her hoe struck somethin’ hard. She scratched all the dirt away and found an iron chest beneath the ground. She pulled it up and pried it open to find her seal skin, her husband buried there so long ago. She dropped her hoe and ran down to the beach, clutchin’ the skin tightly to her breast. Her youngest child, a girl about ten years old at the time, saw her and chased after her. When the selkie reached the water’s edge, she threw off her clothes and wrapped the skin about her. By the time her daughter reached her, all that was left was her mother’s empty dress lyin’ there on the sand. Her seal mother dove into the sea before her eyes.

“ ‘Ma!’ she cried.

“The selkie raised her seal head above the waves and stared at the little girl a long time, then rolled into the sea. From then on a seal could be seen, from time to time, driftin’ just off shore, watchin’ the beach closely, especially when Grandpa or any of his children were down there. They say it was the selkie, keepin’ watch over her human family.”

Danny stopped and took a big gulp of milk.

“Oh, my,” I said, feeling a lump rise in my throat despite my rationality telling me it was just a fairy tale.

I went to the window and looked at the seal, still lolling on the rocks with Noah.

“If your seal’s a selkie, it would explain what I saw the other night,” Danny said through a mouthful of cookie crumbs.

“What do you mean,” I asked, turning back to him.

“Uncle Samuel and I were out moonlight fishin’, when I saw a woman standin’ out there on
Front Cover of Sea Snow by Kathryn Louise Wood
those rocks,” Danny said, rising and pointing toward the rocks near the dock.

“She had long, black hair and bare arms. I couldn’t tell if she had any clothes on ‘cause of the moon shadows. I pointed her out to Uncle Samuel and asked if it was the lady who lives at the lighthouse. He turned around and looked at her. First, he squinted his eyes and then they got real big, and his mouth dropped open.

“ ‘What is it, Uncle?’ I asked. ‘Who is she?’

“ ‘It’s nothin’, Danny,’ he said, ‘just shadows and moonlight, shadows and moonlight.’

 “And he turned us around and headed home even though we hadn’t caught any fish yet. I know there was a lady there and I know, now, it wasn’t you—so it must have been a selkie.”

Danny planted his elbows on the windowsill, chin resting in his hands.

“Perhaps you’re right, Danny,” I said, fighting hard to control my voice, “a selkie.” 

"My Irish Soda Bread" Baked and Photographed by Kathryn Louise Wood
Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! And Happy St. Patrick's Day!


(You can read more about my novel, 
Sea Snow, the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse, at

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