Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pelican Brief

A very strange bird is the pelican,
Its beak can hold more than its belly can.
—Ogden Nash

Dateline: Buena Vista, Baja California Sur

I flew into Los Cabos yesterday (don’t bother to pack pistachios for your next foray south of the border; Mexican immigration won’t let you bring them in) and got settled for two days of work with Lumbini Gardens, a forming community near the sport fishing village of Buena Vista, about an hour north of Los Cabos (and two hours south of La Paz), just up the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, on the Sea of Cortez.

As I’m not on stage until Friday & Saturday, I’ve been enjoying a morning of coffee and casual conversation with group members, and otherwise toughing it out in the 80-degree weather with a gentle onshore breeze.

Walking the beach for three hours (something I rarely get to do on the farm in Missouri), I came across a raft of brown pelicans, hanging out and occasionally snacking on Nature’s own sushi: raw fish seasoned delicately with sea water (a clever tamari substitute) and some bits of inter-tidal nori. It looked like they were having fun and enjoying the same nice day I was.

Used to touristas, a few of these prehistoric looking avians let me get within 30 feet out them. What an amazing bird! Though they look as if put together by committee, the parts seem to work together pretty well. With their large wingspan they can glide for perhaps 200 feet, only inches above the waves. Yet, when they spot a fish, they can knife into the water in a blink, and pop up like a cork to strain their piscean hors d’oeuvre from the bucketful of seawater they scooped into their expansive lower beak. Maneuvering their catch headfirst with a flick of their powerful necks, they release the excess water and it’s down the hatch. Quite a show.

While “elegant” is not the first word that comes to mind when looking at a pelican, they are nonetheless rather regal when posing on rocks, and unquestionably graceful in their gravity-defying glides. While I’m perfectly content to not have an accordion-like lower jar, I do envy their being able to glide like that. Whenever I have flying dreams, it’s always about gliding, where I just lean forward and float above the ground. You know, like a pelican.

Pelicans already hold a special place in my heart because some of them are champion migrators. White ones, for instance, winter in the Gulf of Mexico and summer in central Canada. As a kid learning about exotic animals (by “exotic” I mean ones that don’t live where you do), I was taught to associate pelicans with Louisiana. Imagine my surprise when I first encountered them in the wild while canoeing the Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan. They come north to raise their young and congregate around rapids, where the fishing is better and the water is shallower (with that beak, they’re only going to go so deep). Just like a lot of the gringos around here, they follow the warm weather.

I saw a bumper sticker this morning that read “Work is for Those Who Don’t Fish.” I’m not sure, but it may have been distributed out by Bureau of International Groupings for the Betterment of Intertidal Lunching and Lounging. You know, the BIGBILL association, which most pelicans, of course, belong to.

No comments: