Pelican Pilgrimage

“Bike ride?”, said the husband. He had that smile twitching at the corner of his mouth and I clutched the line like a drowning sailor. Solitude is a luxury. Especially so, during Navarathri season.

I quoted Walt Whitman as I wheeled the bike out from the garage.

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Song of the Open Road – Walt Whitman

Had we gone on a walk, we might have been tempted to talk. But as it was, the bike ride was perfect. We biked along companionably, grateful for the riverside along which we pedaled, taking in the sights of the setting sun. Birds flitted effortlessly. The wind against our beaks were making cycling hard going, and every now and then, I glanced up at the hawks, geese and smaller sparrows and warblers, apparently holding their own, but probably wisely using the wind to their advantage.

We stopped for a breather near the marshes nearby, and only then did I truly appreciate the scene before me. Dozens of pelicans took flight into the sunset heading towards the bay in the west. They rose courteously, together. With every scoop of pelicans that took flight, one of them flew out in a different direction from the others. It was curious at first, but they may have had a smart reason for doing so, seeing that their knowledge of aviation is certainly superior to our own.

A pelican’s muse

NPR All Things Considered – The Pelican Experiment

I don’t remember when I first saw a pelican. I have lamented this before. But this seems like the sort of thing I should remember. Marvelous creatures. Regal, graceful, social, elegant and peaceful beings. 

Countless times, I’ve stood admiring their coordinated fishing. If that isn’t dancing, I don’t know what is. Gracefully, beautifully, they duck in and out, in and out. Floating along seamlessly together, good naturedly taking in their fill. I especially love to see that little hump in their beaks. I thought it was a curiosity – something that reminds us that perfection lies in these little imperfections. But as it turns out, the hump only appears during breeding season and disappears thereafter.

The pods of pelicans near the lakes and bays of California are a source of eternal joy, and though I feel I could never do justice to the marvelous creatures like Aimee Nezhukumatathil does in her book of essays, World of Wonders, my homage is nevertheless as heartfelt.

Where was I? Yes – cycling and watching the scoops of pelicans take flight into the sunset. Instinctively moving into formation so they conserve energy and stay together. There are very few experiences in life that compare to an evening like that.  I suppose spiritual seekers feel the same way after a pilgrimage. Satiated, renewed, and grateful for life on this beautiful planet among beings we love.

On the way back, we cycled in the same direction as the wind, and we found the going much easier. Slowly, companionably, we headed towards the social life of human-beings.