Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Roseate Spoonbills

Roseate Spoonbills
Hilary Flower

It was an invitation from the bay. The tide was out. Way out, revealing a great expanse of sandy bottom and hinting of sea creatures to be discovered. It reminded me of the children’s book where of one of the “Five Chinese Brothers” sucks up the whole ocean so that his other brother won’t drown. I saw this on my morning walk, and raced back to get my then-five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.

When we got to Beach Drive we turned and headed up along it. I wanted to go several blocks to the end, where the muck extended furthest out. But we were only about a third of the way there when, gazing out at the egrets and ibises and herons in the shallows I saw a flash of pink—and then another! Four roseate spoonbills—right in our neighborhood! Astounding! We brought the stroller and bike up over the curb and took off running down the slope and across the wet and spongey dollar grass.

Taking off my flip-flops I discovered that the muck was oozier and squishier than I had expected; my feet sank down a few inches with each step. For yards the exposed ground was perforated with little two-foot-diameter pools. As my children tucked their attention into the hermit crabs and snails in the miniature pools, I shaded my eyes to admire the four roseate spoonbills.

I had never seen one so close, just two occasions seeing one fly overhead, and two occasions finding a bright pink feather on the beach. A streak of near crimson on their wings, fading up to frost on their backs. In the low morning sun their bills, when they would lift them out to munch and swallow a fish, were tipped with a fat glint of silver.

The closest roseate spoonbill shook her richly colorful wings and started to glide a foot or so over the glassy water. The others followed her off to another spot a little ways down the bay—one, two, three, four.

For the rest of the morning I sat on the bench munching crackers with my son, who was singing a loud song about dogs. My daughter exulted in the muck calling out a streaming narrative to me about the little rivers she was creating with her hands, instructing me on how to find the snails, making sure I watched her every jump into the pools. She was nothing less than ecstatic. As I watched my daughter leap knees up in a circular mud pool, it struck me that most of being a parent is showing up and letting childhood unfold. The perfection of that moment was complete, not hampered in the slightest by any past shortcomings of mine as a mother, not made possible by my careful planning.

Eventually I noticed that the polka-dot pattern of muck pools had been replaced by glassy water creeping up behind my daughter. I could barely see the pink of the spoonbills, way off by the sandbar on the horizon, chased there by happy dogs. I decide that, if elusive, these moments of divine sweetness that open up for us from time to time are no more or less real than our moments of confusion and conflict. And they are no more or less in my control than the times when life seems broken, funky, or awash in bad luck. This, indeed, is the lesson I have been teaching myself, and un-learning, and realizing again, since becoming a mother of two. As we made our way home, I wanted to finally accept the truth of it, keep it in my pocket to hold and rub like a smooth stone.

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