They love to fly low along the beaches, usually a group of them in formation, just over the tops of the waves. They take delight in riding the waves, much like a surfer. As the wave peaks and is about to break, they lift their wings effortlessly and float over the top of the wave. When the wave crashes they come back down closer to the water on the back side, and keep flying in perfect rhythm with each other.
Individuals often hang out on the ends of the wharves. They will sit for an hour in complete stillness and allow people to come up close to them for careful examination and admiration. The brown pelicans look like they have pulled an outfit from their closet and put it on to entertain passersby. Such an array of colored feathers, reds and yellows on their head and chest! When I look in their eyes, I see the wisdom of an old fisherman who has spent his life on the open waters and would like to share some of that experience with me.
Seagulls are much different. I think of them as being like poets or preachers who cannot hold back their harsh cries. The sound is not a chirp, nor a singing, but gives me the sense of an interior longing. They don’t want to listen or stand about and be admired the way pelicans do, but rather talk. If they could speak plain English, it would not be in short, choppy sentences, the way people now text rather than write. No, I think the cry would be formal and mournfully expressive, a constant reiterating of the Book of Lamentations. I don’t understand why I hear such sadness coming from them. Maybe they know of, or recall, some ancient temple or holy land that has been desecrated? They look well adjusted to the environment and seem to prosper. Maybe it is only me hearing that sound, and I should change the way I hear them.
Several small creeks that feed into the bay are posted with danger signs this time of year. There’s too much harmful bacteria for people to be swimming where fresh and salt water meet. I understand that the bacteria is not of human origin. I think of these beaches near creek mouths as special places, where I come to entertain a sense of natural awe. When I arrive and discover how dangerous these waters have become, and hear the cry of the gull, I go home feeling that I’ve heard an urgent message.