Yesterday morning I was caught unawares.

Walking up the river from Looe Harbour in south Cornwall, I saw a green sculpture of a seal on the rocks. I stopped briefly to read the plaque, feeling no more than mildly curious.

Obit. 2003

A distinctive ‘one-eyed’ scarred bull Grey Seal […] who was a familiar sight in the harbours of south Cornwall for over 25 years. Eventually he settled on the rocks of Looe Island as his home and made Looe Harbour his dining room where he was fed and his company enjoyed by local fishermen, townsfolk and countless visitors.

‘A Grand Old Man of the Sea’ and a great favourite with all.

In life, Nelson was a splendid ambassador for his species; now, in bronze, he serves as a potent symbol of the rich marine environment of the area and a permanent reminder of the need for it to be cherished.1

As I moved along to allow others to pass me on the walkway, I saw a bunch of wilting red and yellow roses lying beside Nelson’s left flipper.

I hurried away, trying to think of something else. I couldn’t walk through the town centre sobbing.

Nelson was loved. A wild creature of the sea was loved so deeply by a human being that he was remembered with roses 17 years after his death. The sight of that love, one we should all feel for our planet and every wild creature on it, was too sharp to bear.

Last night, trying to get to sleep, the image of the roses laid beside the seal appeared suddenly in my head. All the sobs I had pushed away earlier in the day returned and this time I let them be.

Header photo: Looe Island