Apr 6, 2009

The tidal birds

The long-legged birds run along the endless edge of the water, heads down, hunting through the sand. They hunt where the sea foam is a drying fringe, where the sand is sifted by the water and the water rushes shallow. The hunt without stopping, run without stopping, even more untiring than the waves, which are metaphorically known for not stopping. They run up and down, heads down, scanning the sand for something to eat.

On the balcony, above the beach, there are five old ladies sitting out and wrinkling up in the St. Augustine sun. The ladies are sitting there in swimsuits and sun dresses, curled hair and bare toes, each of the five as shriveled as a finger in a spa. They are each outside their door, in beach chairs on the balcony above the beach, reading and tanning and watching the wet-suit boys and surfer girls, the children and dogs, the waves and the birds and everything, sitting and watching all that running and teeming. They are sitting there and reading there, on the side of the hotel where it's turned into an extended-stay motel for old ladies to sit out and read.

As we walk by, holding our bags up to squeeze by, each one looks up and says, "hi." Each one looks up and seems surprised at us. Then we turned the corner and they all laugh, each with a full and funny laugh. Then they go back to reading and wrinkling, feeling good with their books and the sun, sitting above the beach and watching the world through cataract glasses.

A line of pelicans lag by the old ladies, flapping together but slowly, sluggishly, looking like they're peddling out to the beach. In the tall grass, little birds squat their long legs over eggs. A fat seagull squawks at a chubby girl in shorts and in the front office, the hotel parrot says "hello" "hello" "hello," until the clerk covers his cage with an old blanket. Things are like they should be, and always would be, and all the birds did what they did and would do, being birds. The hunting birds move in and out with the tide, up and down the sandy edge in an endless hunting jog. They try to catch any movement beneath the sand, any squirming in the sand and the shells, trying to snatch anything that's turned up by the water.