I’ve always had an affinity for water birds.
Ducks, swans, seagulls, geese (yes, I said geese)…these have all given me occasion to smile muchly over the years. I have a special place in my heart for a certain flock of Canada geese, but that’s a story for another time. (And no, it did not involve me zipping around in an ultra-light in an attempt to get them to fly.)
Water birds seem to have a certain stigma attached to them. Swans and geese are ‘mean.’ Seagulls are ‘vermin.’ I’m here to say I take a different view, and this is despite the fact that I happen to know first-hand how many shampoos it takes to get seagull poop out of your hair (Eleven. And for all I know, this is precisely where the term ‘sham-poo’ comes from.) I still find them vastly entertaining. I bet even the most die-hard seagull detractor has at least one story about a time one made him laugh.
I’ve lived a lot of different places, as well, but I’ve always lived near water in one form or another, so I’ve had a lifetime of experiences with various water birds.
In all that time, however, I have to admit I never dreamed that one day I would hug a pelican.
Ya know, voluntarily.
I was living in the Bay Area in California at the time, and spending the weekend at one of my favorite places on earth: Monterey, California. I’m not even sure what it is about the area that resonates with me on such a deep level — there are so very many seaside towns along the coast — but trying to define it may take away some of its magic. Let’s just say I can breathe there in a way I can’t anywhere else.
image by Paul Jimerson
One afternoon cruising the piers, I took in a vast array of sea life: seagulls, ducks, pelicans, and a large number of very large, very loud sea lions (or as I prefer to call them: comedy gold.)
Suddenly further down on the dock I was on, there was quite a commotion. I wandered over to see what the source of the ruckus was. It became clear immediately upon closer inspection: a pelican was hopelessly tangled in some fishing line. It was flopping around, panicked, and one foot was completely wrapped up in it, not only bound up but shot completely through with a rather evil-looking tri-tipped hook.
Nothing makes me leap into action faster than someone in distress, animal or person. This was no exception. My heart was completely melted by the sight of this poor, struggling bird, who now had a crowd of people around it besides, and one gallant fisherman who was desperately trying to do what was clearly a two-person job: hold the bird still and try to extricate the hook and fishing line.
I didn’t hesitate: I walked right up like the bird and I were old friends and with a nod to the fisherman indicated that I would try to hold the bird while he did his thing. And yes, pelicans have mighty large beaks, it has to be said…seeing one up that close wasn’t something I’d ever personally envisioned, but it was kinda neat, too. It very much resembled a folded-up sail.
photo by Paul Jimerson
I tried holding the bird not unlike a football (or shall we say…how a girl envisions one holds a football), but that wasn’t working. Those wings are rather large, too, and flapping was being attempted. The more shuffling around we did, the less easy the bird was feeling, so in the end I sort of let instinct take over. In a calmer moment, I eased closer and simply hugged the bird. I slowly sat back and gently hefted its weight sort of half into my lap.
Then the strangest thing happened.
Not only did it stop struggling, it laid its birdy chin on my shoulder and calmed right down. The fisherman went around to my left side, pulled the bird’s injured foot gently towards him around my back, and went to work. I murmured what I assumed were soothing noises to this pelican resting on my shoulder. The operation, such as it was, took quite some time. I dared a glance sideways at one point and saw a rather beautiful eye staring back at mine. I even made out some delicate eyelashes. I ventured some light patting, and that seemed to go over well. It was a lot softer than it appeared, especially in the neck area.
Moments like these, if you are lucky enough to have them, make you realize the connection in all things. And the need for simple things…tenderness, and comfort, are universal. The bird felt lucky to be getting some help (though from the very species that got him into this pickle, it must be said), and I felt lucky to be sitting on a dock, hugging a pelican.
photo by Paul Jimerson
I am a dork.
This is not news.
In the end, the hook was extricated, but it was clear the foot was broken beyond repair. It hung uselessly under the pelican. I worried for the bird and what the future would hold. The fisherman assured me that he would look out for his new charge, here, and not to worry. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but we’d done a successful transfer and the bird was now calmly tucked under his arm…perhaps wondering, like myself, what happened next.
The next day, before leaving town, naturally I wandered down to the pier again. I looked around for the fisherman, but his boat was out. I may or may not have been wondering how one would keep a pelican in one’s Bay Area apartment. I wandered around for several hours, pretending I wasn’t waiting for the very thing I finally saw: his boat coming back into shore. As it got closer, I saw something that was also new to me: a rather largeish pelican half-propped on deck by an Igloo cooler, catching the breeze, getting tossed the occasional fish.
Upon docking, I was guaranteed that this pelican had a new career as first mate, and would want for nothing. I looked at our new friend and I must say, I’m pretty certain I witnessed a pelican looking rather smug.
I left with a spring in my step and a huge grin on my face.
There’s a lesson in here, somewhere.
Can we hug and make friends with water birds?
Yes, we pelican.
many thanks to Paul Jimerson for letting me share his wonderful photos