A Surfer’s Understanding of Animal Communication
By Lawrence Larson, Esq.
I just finished riding a small, waist high wave, that collapsed in front of me. My attention was diverted from the wave, to a pelican about a hundred yards north of me. The bird rested in the water about 25 yards directly seaward from the end of a small Northern San Diego County jetty. One of the Pelican’s wings was stretched out from his body, at a 45 degree angle. It was in a deformed position, as if it had been broken or disjointed.
It was early in the morning and the sun was just squinting over the hills, which were awaking and exhaling an autumn chaparral scent. I became entranced by the whole scene. The ocean stood motionless, a dark limpid ink shade with the texture of grey-blue tiffany glass. The sea’s surface was imbued by chimeric shadows which made me altogether unsure of what I was seeing. As I stared, trying to account for the vision, there was a feeling of disconnect, the creamy adorned feathers of the pelican, it’s disfigured stance, contrasted eerily with the darkness of the ocean.
Near me, there was one other surfer in the water. Beyond him, outside of the line-up, was akayaker paddling through the bay, I watched the pelican for another minute in his haunting pose. The realization hit me. A shore fisherman on the jetty had hooked the pelican on the wing and was holding the line taut, extending the bird’s wing. I yelled about three times, each time more insistently for the fisherman to cut the line. Reluctantly, he reached for his sheathed knife and cut the fishing line. The birds wing fell, and laid straight out from its body on the top of the water.
I began to paddle in the direction of the bird. The other surfer, who noted that he was a biologist, warned me about getting too close to the pelican, as they are fierce fighters and their prehistoric beaks have evolved into formidable defensive tools. The kayaker sensing my curiosity, paddled in a swing cadence toward the animal. His swifter water vehicle neared the pelican before I did. As he cautiously approached the distressed bird, the pelican ranted and employed his strong neck and long beak as a weapon to threaten and fend off the interloping kayaker. The outburst sent the kayaker quickly back to the bay. I knew the pelican lashed out because he was terrified. He did not know why he was maimed. The kayaker and myself were the only people near him and it was a small leap in reason for him to think we were the marauders intent on his capture.
As I approached the magnificent creature, I slowly, smoothly and quietly slid off the surface of my surfboard, trying to leave the water and the pelican undisturbed. I slowly dog paddled toward him, talking in a calm voice. In Hawaii, we greet friends, loved ones and strangers with Aloha. As I got within a few feet of this feral being, I looked at him and said “Aloha”. When one is graced with Aloha they are blessed with the divine light or in Hawaiian “Mana”. Mana is the abiding Hawaiian faith in the sacred divinity of man and nature. I came to the point were my face was a foot away from his face and I was looking straight up at this magnificent creature of God. I was treading water in the middle of the ocean, my surfboard a distant object bobbing to the undulations of the ocean. I was in his world, his domain and his imperial posture said as much. Again i said “ Aloha”. With that simple word Aloha, I assured him that I was a fellow traveler of the ocean and the divinity in me saw the divinity in him.
I have never had the patience, skill or manual dexterity to untangle wires, strings and things. Divinely guided this time, things were different. I cradled the wing in my hands and with the transcendent illumination, I decoded the hopelessly tangled fishing wire. It took about ten minutes to free the bird. The beautiful animal never took his gaze off me. He never flinched his wing. After his liberation, he slowly drew his wing into his body and even more intently fixed his eyes on me. Renewed, he slowly turned his body toward the sea, He swam about twenty feet without spreading his wings. He turned, looked at me and whispered “ Aloha my friend”. The Phoenix, renewed and restored; he spread his wings and in a magnificent arch, gracefully took flight into the heavy salt air. As he flew away, I wished him the same Aloha. The pelican was gone. The fleeting episode: a memory.
Pelican landing image: (C)2006-Stephane TOUGARD. Permission is granted for copy and use.