• Otter Views: Thanksgiving Week

    by Tom Stevens

    This year, the pelican thanksgiving fell a week before the human one. Or maybe fell is the wrong verb. It dive-bombed.

    The pelicans held their three-hour feast in mild, sunny weather at Spanish Bay last Thursday morning. For the handful of humans and canines present, it was quite a spectacle. Dozens upon dozens of the big birds wheeled out over the bay, pursuing “bait balls” of flickering silver fish visible only to them.

    Once the pelicans had a location fix, the banquet began. Circling 40 or 50 feet above the water, several pelicans would break from the larger spiral. Streaking down like X-wing fighters, they would tuck their wings at the last moment and plunge beak first into the bay.

    If I remember, a dropped object accelerates at 32 feet per second per second, but the pelicans seemed privy to a swifter physics. They dropped so fast they blurred. When they hit the water, it looked like a depth charge barrage from some old Movie Tone newsreel. Each impact sent up a plume of spray and a concussive thump. The thumps syncopated as the birds struck the water singly and in groups.

    “Poom!”

    “Poom!”

    “Poom-poom-poom-poom-poom!”

    Even more impressive than the pyrotechnics were the avionics. Flights of 30 or 40 pelicans would circle the same spot in tight formation. At some secret signal, several birds would free fall to bombard a small patch of ocean already afloat with earlier diners. Incredibly, the whole crazy process was collision-free.

    Like Thanksgiving humans, the pelicans would feast for a while, then rest before the next course. At one point, perhaps 90 minutes into the meal, the entire flock settled onto the water. I started counting from left to right. I had reached 120 when they all clattered back up into the sky for what must have been dessert.

    Since this is thanksgiving week, I confess that watching the pelicans made me grateful on several counts. The Great Spirit deserves thanks for creating the pelicans and deploying them on such a glorious morning. But I also felt grateful for Rachel Carson’s lonely crusade against DDT and other pesticides that once threatened these magnificent birds with extinction. Carson showed that science and determination could trump propaganda and corporate clout. It’s a lesson as applicable today as in the 1960s.

    As Thanksgiving week progressed, the pelicans left Spanish Bay to the surfers. By the weekend, the water that had been divebombed on Thursday witnessed explosions of another kind. A big north swell sent ragged, mountainous waves thundering into the bay and blasting over sea crags along the ocean road.

    This made a few dozen surfers and photographers thankful, but it also provided a memorable backdrop for thousands of runners in Sunday’s Big Sur half marathon. As they legged it from Monterey to Asilomar and back, the runners enjoyed crisp, sunny weather and a seascape of blue waves and white water.

    Saturday’s youth race had been held in blustery weather, but the rain seemed to dampen few spirits. At one neighborhood park in Pacific Grove, canvas tents sheltered tables full of young pancake eaters. They dug happily into their flapjacks as rain pattered on the tarps. When the meal ended, volunteers clad in matching plastic windbreakers broke the whole setup down and loaded it into trucks.

    If the pelicans and the runners had anything in common, it was the thoroughness of their departure. Once the Spanish Bay bait fish had been devoured, the pelicans took wing and scattered to the four winds. And once the 20,000-legged millipede of half-marathoners concluded their shoreline circuit, the event and its cones and barriers packed up swiftly behind them. Visitors wandering into PG at midmorning were surprised to learn a race had even been held.

    Earlier risers who saw thousands running through the streets might have been grateful to be in a place where running is for pleasure. Half a world away this thanksgiving week, people are running in earnest as death rains from the skies in Syria, Congo, Israel and Gaza. A cease fire anywhere would be gratifying. From this remove, we can send our ambassadors and our prayers.

    We are lucky on this peninsula to experience only the “poom!” of pelican bombardments and the thunder of winter waves. It’s something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving week.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on November 23, 2012

    Topics: Otter Views

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