I relax into a beach chair while in the water my husband straddles a surfboard waiting for waves. The beach and the floor of the gulf in our region are formed with sand as white as snow, making the water an aqua hue worthy of a postcard. A squadron of five pelicans glide in a line inches above the water. For such ungainly birds, they rarely flap their wings, but ride an invisible lift layered over the water.
The pelican is the size of a swan and has the same S-neck like the swan, but not many people would describe the pelican as beautiful. His short legs ending in large, webbed feet and are comical paired with his bulky body. Draping from his bill is a pouch, like a pendulous double chin, and his bill is almost the length of his sinewing neck. Flying overhead, the pelican reminds me of a pterodactyl.
Pelicans are one of my favorite birds. They cruise over the water or soar high in the sky looking for fish, and when they spot one, they dive headfirst with abandon. Water explodes at their plunge, and up they bob, tilting their bill down to drain gallons of water from the pouch, while retaining their catch. Then they throw back their head and swallow the fish in a gulp.
They don’t pretend to be attractive or dainty, but they go about their business without inhibition. This is contagious, to me, the observer. His living large bubbles a sense of freedom and joy, and I can’t help smiling and admiring this gangly bird.
My husband, growing up on this same coastline, draws a blank when asked about pelicans from his childhood. These birds disappeared for decades due to pesticides trickling into the water table and into the bays and Gulf of Mexico. Pelicans ingested the toxins in fish and water, and the poison made their eggshells thin. As mama pelicans covered the eggs with their webbed feet to incubated them, the eggs broke.
With the banning of those pesticides, the brown pelicans have made a big comeback, and we’re delighted to see them. They perch on boat docks and pilings, bridge rails and jetties. They’re a common sight now and represent our beach culture.
They rollercoaster in the sky over our bayou where I always begin my walks. Their follow-the leader flight so low over the water and in undulations higher in the sky entertain and amaze. They challenge me to be as un-self conscious and as fully engaged in living as they. Make a splash, enjoy the surroundings, lunge headlong into occupations, and play with friends. Simply by living as they were created, these creatures glorify God. So can I.