I cried this morning.
About the birds.
They didn’t accost me. And that made me sad.
Just a couple of weeks ago the feisty little critters chased me into the Gulf. Yes, that was me, splashing around in my pretty new yellow dress. And no, I had not planned on going swimming in my clothes at dawn.
And yes, that was me, flailing around, arms thrashing overhead and in front of my face like a displaced interpretive dancer on hallucinogens. And no, I was not having a psychotic break.
It may have looked that way from the dunes or the balcony of your condo, because you probably couldn’t see my assailant. But I swear, I’m mostly sane. I rarely go swimming at dawn—fully clothed and frantic. Neither do I dance that early in the day (though I have been known to sing).
I was fleeing for my life, you see, or at least fleeing for my eyesight. That scene from Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller, The Birds—when Jessica Tandy finds her daddy slumped against his bedroom wall, bloodied and eyeless—left quite an impression on me as a child.
Okay, so I over-reacted just a tad. The bird that was “attacking” me was no bigger than a Snicker’s Bar. I outweighed him by about 1,500 to one. And truth be told, I have never heard of anyone being hurt by these fierce little birds, but still…
They are very, shall I say, persuasive. This little bird, the Least Tern—the smallest of the Gull family in North America—is endangered in many areas. The Florida Wildlife Commission cordons off areas of the beach where they nest, with ominous signs—“DO NOT ENTER”—but the birds themselves to a dang good job of keeping interlopers away. I thought I was far enough away from the nests just east of my house as I passed by on my walk. Mommy Bird thought differently. Hence my early morning “swim,” my spastic dance.
But today, they ignored me. For the first time in weeks, I walked the beach at dawn unmolested by Snickers Bars. Oh, they were there, swirling and swooping high above, chirping madly—but they couldn’t be bothered with me. They seemed confused, unfocussed—and well, sad.
I know that I am anthropomorphizing and projecting here. If birds have emotions akin to humans, they aren’t talking about them—at least not in a language I can understand. But they seem especially noisy this morning. They seem aimless.
Their purpose is gone.
All last week a big storm named Barry churned in the Gulf. He lingered offshore for days and days, pushing the tide almost all the way up to the dunes, reducing the beach to a soggy sliver of sand, drowning hundreds and hundreds of nests up and down the beach.
I don’t know how many eggs were lost, how many fledglings were displaced, how many mamma birds were left unemployed. But all that zeal and fierceness these tiny birds flaunted to protect their progeny seems lost today.
What will they do now?
What will I do now? I’m feeling purposeless lately. I have no babies to care for, no nest to protect. And, thank God, it was not a disaster, natural or otherwise, that “unemployed” me. No, it was a lovely progression of life. My boys grew up. They moved away. And despite the fact that this was the plan all along, I often feel like I’m swooping in circles chirping a language nobody can understand.
This is why I write—to translate my frantic birdie language into intelligible prose. This is why I walk the beach each day at dawn—to encourage nature to encourage me.
Even when it makes me a little sad. It’s okay to feel a little sad. Maybe it’s necessary. For me, it’s actually progress. I no longer indulge the frantic need to push uncomfortable emotions away with whatever compulsion or substance is handy.
My sadness is useful if I let it be. It shows me that “purpose” is an evolving thing, not a carved-in-stone-mandate-from-on-high assigned to me at birth near a burning bush.
No, I think it’s a bit more subtle than that. In fact, sometimes I can’t deduce it at all. And that too, is okay. Sometimes swooping in circles is the best I can do.
Or floating. Writer Hunter S. Thompson wrote, in a lovely letter to a young friend, that “whether to float with the tide, or swim for a goal is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously…in our lives.”
Maybe floating—stilling my body and mind on the surface of this sea, allowing nature to have its way with me—can be a prelude in this time of great transition, a melodic overture of sorts. After all, the Psalmist suggests stillness before full understanding. Be still. And then know.
I don’t know right now. But I have been here before. I have been called to reorient myself many times in my life. Though my deepest values have remained pretty constant throughout my life, the ways I have chosen to express them are changeable. As they should be.
My all-time greatest “purpose”—raising my boys—is not my last. All of those qualities that made me a devoted parent, are still alive and kickin’ in me. They still cry out for creative expression. I’m not done yet.
But for now, I need to float.
Yes, literally. After I finished this story, I felt urged into the water, this time not by angry Snicker’s Bars, but by my own wise muse. The Gulf was lake-like, minty green and clear. I waded in up to my knees, then dove beneath the glittering surface, feeling instantly refreshed, invigorated, encouraged. I swam out, a bit beyond the sandbar, and turned face-up.
And floated. It was nearly effortless—as long as I kept my gaze uplifted, toward the sky. However, the moment I raised my head from the water to locate the safe shore, my hips dropped, and I began to sink. A little bit of flailing ensued until I came to rest again on my back, ears submerged, gaze above. Floating.
For those few moments I could not feel the weight of my body or my heart. I was supported—swaddled in the sea. I was supported.
I am supported.
“Vices” is now available on Kindle and other eReaders for just 5.99. You even have the option of “gifting” the digital version by clicking the “Give as a Gift” on Amazon.com and entering the email address of the recipient. Of course, the paper version (still my preference) is available at the buy-three-get-one-free rate from this website (Shop).
Books are also available from all these gracious local retailers:
At the beach:
69 Via DeLuna Dr.
Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
In Gulf Breeze:
832 Gulf Breeze Parkway
(Publix shopping center)
Gulf Breeze, FL 32561
In East Hill:
1208 N. 12th Ave.
Pensacola, FL 32503
(at the front register)
5109 Bayou Blvd.
Pensacola, FL 32503
89 Central Square
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32549
Page and Palette
32 S. Secton Street
Fairhope, AL 36532