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  • Maggie Tate

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Throughout the preparations and travels making up our great loop so far, one creature stands ut: the pelican. As we prepared for the loop in the cold hills of Tennessee, we encountered hundreds, even thousands of huge migrating white pelicans with black wing tips. When full squadrons of them took off or landed, the visual impact of rippling flashes of black and white made the flock look like its own creature. When we were near Hiwassee Island, we'd turn the motor off and see dozens of them flying overhead with formations intermingled with thousands of sandhill cranes.


You may have a different opinion as I did. Whenever I thought of the avian creatures, I pictured the isolated lonely pelican cleverly captured in a black-and-white photo in a tourist-focused beach gallery, with the grizzled bird perched atop a dock piling or channel marker.


Or, you might think of the leathery pouch used to capture and store food. Throughout the trip, we'd look for excuses to recite some version of Dixon Lanier Merritt's limerick:


> A wonderful bird is the pelican.

> His bill can hold more than his belican.

> He can hold in his beak

> Enough food for a week

> But I'm damned if I see how the helican.


As we've worked our way around Florida, we've discovered a new appreciation of the fascinating birds, especially these honorary raptors on the hunt. They dive with reckless abandon. Our daughter the vet student informed us that they have air sacs that they inflate just before impact to protect their internal organs when they dive.


And dive they do. Far from the images of the wizened, wrinkled solo birds captured on the walls of rental properties across the country, these wonderful animals moved with joy. We spent hours at a New Smyrna bed and breakfast deck watching dozens of these birds climb up high, cruise slowly into the wind, and then come screaming down, crashing into the water with all of the grace of a drunken goat. Then, they'd surface with a bird, flick their neck to flip it down their gullet, and climb up to look for more. We saw this drama play out hundreds of times, sometimes a mere 40 feet from our dock and others across the bay amongst the many anchored sailboats and trawlers.


Then, we laughed, and it felt good. As I write today, I empathize with the pelican. The time before the loop felt like we were isolated on cold perches, lonely and afraid. Then, we boldly took a bold plunge into the waters of the loop. All of our financial commitments and professional responsibilities seemingly threaten to tear us to pieces on impact. At times, the dive felt reckless as we had no relevant experience, no boat, a turbulent world, and more unknowns than these. We dove anyway.


Just as the pelicans had hidden air sacs to protect them from impact, we too had our own points of protection. Our planning, excellent advisors, and our love for each other insulated us from the worst of the impact. After we dive, all that's left is spreading ripples in the water, each one full of memories, joy, and love.





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