A feath­ered friend and thoughts about eter­nity

The Compass - - OPINION -

It is good to be back here again. I turn the car off the as­phalt, the gravel crunch­ing un­der the tires as I head for the shore. The sin­gle lane wooden bridge rat­tles as I cross the brook and nose into the deep­en­ing sand where the small dunes point to­ward the beach. I get out of the car, breathe in the salt air and look around. This is the spot where the brown brook passes into the shade un­der the bridge, then emerges and turns abruptly away from the beach and the salt wa­ter be­yond. The brook is head­ing back in­land.

It is as if, hav­ing spent an en­tire life­time tum­bling from its source to­ward its end at the sea, the fast mov­ing cur­rent is star­tled that it has fi­nally ar­rived. At the last minute the brook re­al­izes it isn’t ready yet. It wants more time be­fore com­mit­ting to the lifechang­ing tran­si­tion as its sweet wa­ter be­comes en­tirely en­gulfed by the vast­ness of salt, stretch­ing to the hori­zon on the far side of the beach.

Turn­ing its back tem­po­rar­ily on the sea, the brook widens and slows. Its flow is now split into sev­eral path­ways, lazily sur­round­ing small islets and carv­ing out beach-grass cov­ered penin­su­las. The shore­line tugs at the ev­er­slow­ing wa­ter, urg­ing it to take its time and en­joy the jour­ney. The cur­rent’s sep­a­rate path­ways re­join one an­other again as the brook trans­forms it­self, smooth­ing its rif­fled sur­face to a mir­ror fin­ish, the bara­chois pond it has now be­come, re­flect­ing the cloud­streaked blue over­head.

Walk­ing along the sand I am of­fered small glimpses of the pond through the dense thick­ets of beach-grass. The wa­ter is only inches deep here. Heated and lit by the sun, the sandy bot­tom is the palest of pale browns, darker shad­ows cast by small fish flit­ting here and there across it, the fish them­selves al­most translu­cent in the bright light. It is as peace­ful and pas­toral a set­ting as one might find miles in­land.

With my back to the sea the only hint that the ocean is mere foot­steps away is the scent of sea­weed and the whis­pered hiss of waves break­ing on the sand. I know with­out turn­ing around that the sea is there be­cause I have been here many times be­fore. I also know that only a few paces down­stream the clear sur­face of the bara­chois pond will be­come a brook once again, will be­gin to rip­ple, be­come deeper, darker and faster un­til it hurls it­self into the nar­row pas­sage across the beach and into the lim­it­less ocean.

I may have been here many times be­fore, but so has the brook. Many many more times than me. The brook has paused here to be­come a bara­chois pond, oh so many times, be­fore re­join­ing the sea whence it came. It has done so for­ever, be­neath the clouds which have lifted it up, trans­ported it in­land, and rained it down onto the hill­sides that re­turn it to the salt wa­ter once again. Many times. Con­tin­u­ously. Eter­nally.

My thoughts of eter­nity are in­ter­rupted by a fa­mil­iar sound. It is the rapid cheep­ing of a spotted sandpiper. A mes­sage of alarm. It is com­ing from the long grass where the brook is tum­bling across the beach into the sea.

I turn to­ward the sound and up pops a tiny gray and brown bird, fran­ti­cally beat­ing its wings in a blur of re­peated down­strokes. It is try­ing to di­vert my at­ten­tion from the spot where it first ap­peared.

This can mean one of two things. The cheep­ing bird may be try­ing to guide me away from ei­ther four eggs in a nest, or four flight­less new­born sand­pipers scur­ry­ing in the grass. If there are young­sters here, the adult bird will change its call and be­gin to ut­ter in­struc­tions to its young, ex­plain­ing to them how best to avoid the in­trud­ing hu­man. The lit­tle birds nor­mally re­ply that they un­der­stand. I don’t hear any of these mes­sages though, and the bird continues to fly around me cheep­ing fran­ti­cally. As I slowly re­treat, pick­ing my way among the clumps of grass, I scan the ground care­fully for eggs. I see none, and even­tu­ally the bird van­ishes into the grass and the cheep­ing stops.

It is some­how fit­ting that hid­den in the pre­cise spot where fresh wa­ter is pre­par­ing to be­come salt, sandpiper eggs are about to trans­form them­selves into tiny birds. These young sand­pipers will grow to ma­tu­rity this sum­mer, fly to South Amer­ica in the au­tumn, re­turn­ing next spring to New­found­land to make their nests and hatch their young anew. It is a cy­cle as com­plete and on­go­ing as the rain­fall that feeds the brooks that empty into the ocean.

What a priv­i­lege it is to live in this won­der­ful place, where ev­ery day it is pos­si­ble to bear wit­ness to the re­newal of eter­nity.

— Peter Pick­ers­gill is an artist and writer in Sal­vage, Bon­av­ista Bay. He can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing: pick­ers­gill@mac.com 30

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