Today’s swim began with me feeling more than a little sorry for myself: missing home, wanting to hold my newly hatched nephew and play with my dogs. My swims, along with contact with home, and snatches of exploration, have kept me level these many months. As I paddled again towards the white house at the far end of the beach, I pondered whether it was possible to pull off the feat of just getting on a plane and heading home (it was not).
On the horizon, about 150m away, I spotted my favourite birds: local pelicans diving for dinner, and changed course towards them. The first time I encountered these creatures, more compact than our Aussie versions and a grey-brown colour, was my birthday on Nevis, where I laughed out loud at the sight of their twisting and swooping into the water to bag a fish or two. Ever since then, whenever I see them, I feel happier and watch with fascination as they fly overhead, ready to catch their next meal, or soar across the water to their next destination.
Today, on the verge of evening, as I swam and pondered a flight of my own, there they were again: around eight magnificent pelicans, in silouhette against the fading sky. I have never seen so many together; at most, I’ve watched two or three at once. But here, in this enormous group, three or four of them would rise up together to spy their prey until, choreographed, they twisted and dived all at once into the water, folding in their wings just as they passed through the surface. After the splash, they emerge with their catch and sit, draining the water from their bills. Tiny birds land on their backs or heads hoping to get a piece of the action, before each pelican lifts their long, elegant bill and swallows their prize, a wobble evident in their fleshy pouch as the victim slides to its destiny.
My pelican friends don’t seem too bothered by me, following the school of fish toward me until, there they were, just a handful of metres away. Having no doubt considered me too slow to present a threat, they continued their dance all about me, leaping and diving and swallowing, disturbing their prey so much that a silver fish larger than my hand leapt in a large arc above the water before me.
I remained with them for what must have been 10 or 15 minutes, and one by one they flew away, satiated. Those that remained flew further over the Caribbean racing after their meal. I looked to the shore, and was two or three times further away than usual; I was in the open water.
As I turned to head back, the wind picked up on the water’s surface. I realised, amidst the dancing birds, that I have once more been reminded of the extraordinary gift of being here.
[The next day, again on my early evening swim, I found 14 pelicans in their group dance. They let me float amongst them for 20 minutes, soaring past and plummeting into the water just a couple of metres from me (one even splashed me). By day 3, my friends had moved on.]