The Pelicans

The slightest tic-tic-ticking of the motor harmonized perfectly with the steady rise and fall and rise on the tidal waves of the Senegal River. I rocked slowly, through the Djoudj National Bird Park to absorb the crisp salt air, the whisper of the tall marsh grasses, and the gentle hello of the deep violet morning glories. I basked in the pure light of the clear African sky, and the reeds sang a soulful jazz tune to me as I tried not to disturb the peace. There was silence, save for the rippling water and dancing grass, and one lonesome low-flying pelican.

Then I rounded a bend and a flock of pale pink pelicans sporting bright yellow and blue bills and intent black eyes flew beside me, gliding barely above the water in perfect, effortless formation. They glanced into the boat as if to nod a polite “good morning” like any other pleasant passerby on a busy highway. We rode in tandem, and I lost all sense of self in the boat as dozens more ethereal pelicans on joined on either side of me. I was swimming and flying all at once, both here and there, feeling a sense of freedom rarely experienced with the loss of all inhibition and awareness. A heron watched me from the riverbank with a knowing smile, sagely affirming my state of awe. The wind and the river combined with the sudden surge of Thulian feathers created a magical moment, for how often does one fly?

With every passing minute that we ventured further along the river and away from the coast, the smell of raw, rotting fish and bird droppings intensified until we turned another corner. Hit full on by a putrid odor, I saw a river bank filled with thousands of squawking birds, each clamoring to be heard above his neighbor. They jostled and tripped and laughed and argued in what seemed to be a dizzying Town Meeting, surely to decide the fate of Senegal itself. I sat, privy to their most intimate conversations and loudest insults.

Slowly, mindfully, and unnoticed, I backed away from this chaotic assembly and returned to dry land.

R Bass

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