We walked along the wide open beach, our senses filled with the ocean’s boisterous offer of serenity. Waves thundered onto the shore, the shrill screams of gulls somehow melted into the landscape while cool sand wiggled its way through our toes and the ocean fog lay down upon us.
Beyond the salty strands of hair whipping across my face, a woman and a couple of children approached us from the opposite direction, before we could say hello, she told us there was a pelican in trouble down the beach.
“What’s the problem?”
“It's got a fish hook stuck in its beak and it’s all wrapped up in fishing line.”
We approached tentatively. Silhouetted against shades of gray, the great bird hobbled around in circles, her squat legs trussed like a Thanksgiving turkey. She was clearly anxious, but seemed to sense that an all out panic was partly what led to her debacle and another one would be no more helpful. We drew near and could see that the hook and line had torn a small hole in the fishing pouch and was now impaled into her impressive bill.
“I don’t know if you should, it is a wild animal after all.” I said as if he were confused as to the subject of our encounter.
I might have expected his response, “I can’t very well leave her to die.”
“Is your campsite near?” he asked the woman, “I'm going to need a pair of pliers or something to remove that hook.”
"I'll see what I can find," she said and sprinted into the veil of the marine layer.
The pelican is not often thought to be a beautiful bird; but I rather like its substantial size, the many curves and positions of its long neck, and the sight of a colony gliding in line formation just above the wave break is more graceful than a troupe of dancing ballerinas. Flying solo, it trolls the ocean for an evening meal and it is there that the beast of a bird reveals the epitome of poise and power. With prey in sight, it crooks its massive wings just so, stretches its mighty neck to the sea, and then plunges straight down from heights of thirty feet to scoop up unsuspecting fish in its generous pouch and then tosses them back like a cowboy swilling whiskey.
The woman returned and handed him a pair of needle nosed pliers. He moved closer, breathed deeply and with a grace and strength all his own, he calmed that great bird. He gently took the massive beak in his hand and drew her body close to him securing her beneath his arm. With the dexterity and precision of a surgeon, he removed the hook and then methodically unwound the string that would have otherwise been her demise.
I recall that pelican giving my husband a nod before toddling off; I now realize it has taken me years to appreciate what I experienced that day. Years for me to know fully, what that bird on the beach knew of my man in a moment.