PAT NEAL: The best Mother’s Day present

MOTHER’S DAY IS coming up. I had a great mother. I know because I am not writing this from prison.

It wasn’t my mother’s fault that she had a kid born in the wrong century. Ma always encouraged me to go out and pursue my dreams, no matter how far away or how long it took. She was always eager to drop me off in the woods and come back to pick up her Sonny eventually.

When Mother’s Day rolled around, I wanted to get her something — but what to get for a woman who had everything and didn’t want anything?

Then one sunny spring day at the beach with a gang of juvenile delinquent sucker-punchers, we found a freshly killed sea lion.

There was only one hole in the hide. We figured some fisherman plugged it. This was before the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 that made seals and sea lions into our own version of the Sacred Cow, but I digress.

A sea lion is a beautiful animal with an elegant coat of short golden fur. Suddenly, I had a terrific idea. It was almost Mother’s Day! What mother wouldn’t want a freshly tanned sea lion hide? It would make a great rug or, heck, a wall-to-wall carpet. There was nothing to do but get to work and skin the sea lion.

This was a big job. I had done some varmint hunting before, bagging a trophy mountain beaver; it was him or me. I saved the skin until the mice ate it.

So, I had some idea about how to skin a critter, but this was a big job. The sea lion was so heavy that, with all of us lifting together, we could barely move it. We rassled the carcass for what seemed like hours trying to get the hide off.

When I was a kid, I was always very proud of having a sharp knife. That was because I usually lost them before they had a chance to get dull. Yet, even a sharp knife is almost no match for a sea lion hide. It seemed to have an impenetrable greasy coat that resisted all our efforts.

Skinning a sea lion has to be one of the greasiest, stinking chores you would ever want to tackle, but then again, it was almost Mother’s Day and the pressure was on.

Since the hide was for Mom, we were very careful to not put another hole in it while we were skinning. A mistake like that could ruin Mother’s Day.

Hours later, we finally got the hide off the carcass. There was a thick layer of blubber still attached to the skin that made it impossible to lift.

I remember dragging the hide down the beach wondering what we would say if our game warden happened along. I was pretty sure we could throw ourselves at the mercy of the court, pleading stupid brute dumbness, and be exonerated on all charges. Or not.

Later, I wished a game warden had happened along. It would have saved a whole lot of trouble later.

It was a big job that took two sheets of plywood to stretch that hide. It was about eight feet square, a real trophy.

Then the sun came out. Molten blubber streamed down, forming puddles that attracted swarms of blowflies.

I’d read somewhere you could use cornmeal to degrease a hide. An entire box of cornmeal had no effect.

The hide turned black and rancid with the hardness of sheet steel.

The fur was still prime though. Mom said she liked it.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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