An incredible sight met me two weeks ago when I stepped onto the porch of our newest fixer upper just after taking possession: 40 huge white birds floating together just offshore, first in a tight group, and then forming a long line. (This is photo of them.)
I knew they weren’t seagulls, even from a distance they looked big. I pulled out the binoculars and saw what appeared to be pelicans, though I’d never seen white ones before, just the brown ones that swoop into the water to scoop up food.
As I watched, I could hear them beating their wings against the water, and see them dipping their necks down into the water, taking turns it seemed. I only had my phone for photos, so I snapped a few but couldn’t zoom in much.
I did a quick Google search (hooray for smart phones) for “White Pelican,” found a photo that looked like what I saw, and sure enough, I’d stumbled onto a flock of North American pelicans.
The beauty of this miracle—that something I’d never seen before was in full view and that I could see these birds from the porch and nearly every room of my new house simply overwhelmed me, and I couldn’t help but cry out of thanksgiving—the generosity of creation and the creator, on display without even having to seek it out, just appearing there for me (and anyone else who happened to be looking) to witness and celebrate.
I was, and am, filled with gratitude. My husband and I have risked so much over the past five years; we’ve let go, and let go, and we keep letting go—of home and the proximity of long-time friends and beloved family, of places that are familiar, of jobs and roles and expectations, and our desire to control situations.
We continue to let go of our will and insistence on life working out a certain way, for ourselves and those we love, and to lay down the burden of carrying the great need we see in the wider world. There are moments when it feels selfish not to rush in, not to “do everything we can” when trouble arises. It is in my nature and my husband’s to fix and save and make everything okay (which makes us perfect home renovators).
In allowing events to unfold without insisting on directing their outcome, we allow the possibility for God to work in ways we couldn’t even imagine, and we learn to trust that a power much bigger than anything we can muster abides with each of us in our suffering, as well as in our celebration.
The work of letting go is so difficult, and sometimes feels constant, and yet, it has freed us to receive incredible gifts, like the vision of this flock of pelicans (which I have not seen again). The only thing I’ve done to deserve this abundance is simply to pay attention. It’s easy to see the beauty when I live in the watery wonder of Puget Sound. Yet, paying attention to beauty is a practice that can be cultivated anywhere.
Later that night, I read more about North American Pelicans, and discovered they live in community and fish cooperatively from the water (not diving like brown pelicans), taking turns feeding. Some birds beat their wings against the water, while others catch the fish that are stirred up, and vice versa, which is what I had witnessed.
It turns out that our new fixer upper is close to the mouth of the Skokomish River as it meets the Hood Canal, so it’s an estuary environment, which accounts for the appearance of these pelicans that are usually found in fresh water, and are not particularly common in Western Washington.
The symbolism of the North American pelican has much to do with cooperation and community—they help each other and live as though there’s enough for everyone. When need surrounds us, how hopeful and powerful it is for us to think and act like pelicans—embodying those qualities that recognize our interconnectedness and the realness of abundance.
I am a writer who, in December 2011, fortified by a new MFA, empty nest, and changes in my husband's employment, relocated from my native California to Washington state to see what would unfold next.