This is the time of year when white pelicans rest here in SE Iowa on their way north from winter break to their summer breeding grounds. They are one of this universe’s many paradoxes because while they are ungainly up close, they are preternaturally elegant in flight.
Regarding the proximate view, many will be familiar with this short poem by Dixon Merritt:A wonderful bird is the pelican, His bill can hold more than his belly can, He can take in his beak, Enough food for a week, But I’m damned to see how the hell he can!
The brown pelicans look very similar to the white in silhouette, but differ in plumage, behavior, and range. The brown are frequently seen in small groups coasting smoothly over a southern shore. Spotting a fishy morsel they’ll fold their wings (looking like a hipped umbrella) and dive into the sea.
The white don’t dive, but oh do they soar. Individuals or small groups rise on thermals so high and with such a complete lack of apparent effort that they resemble lower case ‘t’s floating at the outer ranges of one’s field of vision. Larger groups closer to the ground form slowly pulsing or undulating chevrons.
Squadrons sometimes slowly describe circles in the sky suddenly changing from black to white and back depending upon their aspect to the sun. Large groups form gently rotating cylinders suspended in the air which bring to mind a friendly tornado in very slow motion.
I have no recollection of having ever seen them during my youth. Thus, every spring as they pass through these parts I have to re-convince myself that their visit is no freak of nature.
Reminds me of a passage in Robert Coles’ Spiritual Life of Children. The Harvard psychiatrist interviewed children of widely diverse religious and secular backgrounds for insights into their inner lives and world views. My favorite bit is of his time with an eight year old Hopi girl sitting outside her spare home high on a mesa.
As they talked, she noticed a pair of hawks soaring high above. Then silent, she followed their graceful flight until the raptors were out of sight and then said: “I guess they’ll find something to eat. I wish they were just going on a ride and not really hungry. I love when they glide, then stop, flap their wings, and continue gliding.”
The conversation then resumed for a time when of a sudden she stopped talking and “Her head turned about forty-five degrees to the left, she looked up – the hawks had returned. How had she known?”
Coles concludes: “Some young people go through intense visionary moments… These are times when a mix of psychological surrender and philosophical transcendence offers the nearest thing to Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” I can expect to see”.
Do you recall having had such a moment at the ripe old age of eight? Or later? How likely can one be for those continuously perched in front of any sort of tube? Is there a cerebral analogue to Fast Food Nation and obesity? Remote Control Nation and, like, uh, uh, say what??