Some birds were never meant to be grounded

By Clyde Davis: CNJ Columnist

One of my favorite pieces to pass out to my freshman English classes is an essay by a scuba diver.

Placed loosely in the science category, it involves his reaction when, while diving one day amid schools of smaller fish, a school of tarpon moved through the area. The diver, also a marine biologist, became sensitive to the response of, basically, everything in the area.

He also felt himself, in a sense, ingesting the response of the smaller marine life, on a gut level, to the moving presence of the larger predators. The writer was using this as an illustration of the unity of life, and also of the manner in which all of creation, ourselves included if we tune in, are blessed with a sixth sense, or an extra sense, or awareness.

There was something in this article that I knew, or understood, but which I have experienced again in a new way.

I am on the California coast, a week of vacation prior to a business meeting. We were at Pismo Beach, about 100 miles north of Santa Barbara, and had gone to play in the surf that morning. After the morning swim, I walked to the end of the pier and it was on the way back that I felt, rather than saw, something vibrate through the air. I knew that I was in the presence of a powerful force of nature.

That knowing went beyond the realization that the hundreds of pigeons and numerous gulls, squawking and bouncing in the area, had suddenly gone still and silent. It went beyond the realization that a certain number of people in the area, obviously in tune with the same vibrations as I was, had become still.

From the south came a flock of about 10 pelicans, sweeping the coastline in a V formation. It was this that was responsible for the wave of energy that passed through the area.

The proper response might have been to bow, or salute, as these huge birds moved through the area, claiming the air space around them.

Consider this. There are many birds more attractive than pelicans. On land, there are few birds who are more awkward.

But this was air. When it comes to grace and power on either air or water, few birds if any exceed pelicans. Their awkwardness is transformed, they seem to be at one with their surroundings to an unusual degree. Their homeliness disappears.

They passed, patrolling up the coastline, and the moment passed. The gulls and pigeons resumed their noisemaking, the humans who had been sensitive enough to respond to the moment, went back to whatever we had been doing.

I remembered a similar moment when a gray whale chose to reveal himself by breaking water, just for an instant, to those who were aware of his presence.

Many missed him, not just because they were not looking in that direction but, I now believe, because of that factor of being in tune.

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a college instructor. He can be contacted at: