I stood transfixed by its awkwardly long beak. At the end was a tiny hook I’d never noticed before. Imagine your face being a foot long.
I’ve seen pelicans a dozen times over the years but for some reason on this day I saw them differently. I’ve written about this phenomena in the past: first it was the wildebeest followed by the cape buffalo. Two animals I’d seen before without any major emotional connection and then, voilà, it changed.
In the case of the pelicans, I suppose I’d never been close enough to get a good look but these pelicans were just a few feet away, swimming under the dock next to us while we prepared to disembark. They glided through the soft light cast by the approaching sunset (lighting IS everything) and looked absolutely beautiful against the dark backdrop of the dock’s shadows—their reflections still and perfect in the water.
Our host, Captain Bill,told us that pelicans lose their sight after years of diving face first into the surf to catch their meals (makes sense). Not able to hunt anymore they find their way to the marinas where they wait for boaters to throw them bait or other tidbits. They’re still somewhat skittish but unlike their younger counterparts, they’ve learned to stay close and wait for the food to start flying. I’m guessing these pelicans were of that order. Even if they weren’t, we obliged them dutifully.
They were brown pelicans. The ugly sister to the beautiful white pelicans that streak through the skies in Southern Florida. At least that’s what I’d always thought. But basking in the glow under the dock they transformed like Cinderella before the ball, their dark brown plumage gleaming black, white and gold.
We didn’t stay long; we finished our ride. We were packing up, or perhaps I should say that my family was packing up. I was snapping a zillion pictures of the pelicans like an idiot.
I fell in love with brown pelicans that day. I learned later, reading up on my new-found friends, that brown pelicans are endangered. I had no idea, though I really shouldn’t have been surprised.
It seems everything that’s special is nowadays.