The pelicans rode the thermals, their black-tipped wings spread wide, heads tucked in close to their bodies. Fifty-two of them in all, swooping and swirling on the unseen breeze. Their white bodies stood out perfectly against the unbroken expanse of bright blue sky. Turning, banking, dipping, but never flapping a wing. The flock was equal parts floating flower petals and f-15 fighter jets flying in formation. Higher and higher they rose, a seemingly hodgepodge vortex of feathers, until they disappeared from sight. For fifteen minutes today, Mother Nature treated me to the most beautiful ballet I’ve ever seen.
I spent my time marveling at the show and thinking of my dad.
A wonderful bird is the pelican
His bill can hold more than his belican
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week
But I’m damned if I see how the helican
Anytime the word pelican came up on conversation when I was growing up, my dad would recite the old limerick. I would giggle at the mental image of the bird with a beak full of groceries and the sheer naughtiness of my dad swearing.
“He would have loved this,” I thought to myself. And in that moment, I missed him so much it felt as if my heart might split right in two.
I thought about the conversation we would have had, me telling him about this perfect spring day watching pelicans soar and sharing random pelican facts.
“Did you know some pelicans can hold more than 18 gallons of water in the pouch under it’s bill?” I would have told him.
“The helican!” He would have responded in that big, booming voice of his, and we both would have laughed.
Oh how I wanted to call and tell him about this moment. About how my sky was filled with the most improbable demonstration of grace and beauty I’ve seen in a while. Instead, I stood and watched the birds slip out of sight as a tear or two rolled down my cheek.
When I came in the house and checked my photos, I was disappointed to see that they hadn’t turned out. In my wonder of watching the flock, I flubbed my camera settings and overexposed my images so much, even Photoshop couldn’t save them. This was the best of the bunch, and it in no way does justice to the beauty of the moment.
But even without the perfect picture, I’ll remember this day I watched a pelican air ballet with a silly limerick in my head and my dad in my heart.
I miss you, Big John.