I remember the first time I realized that I was not the only person in the universe. (My parents were people too, but they were only there to serve me.) My family was traveling from our small Alberta town to the huge metropolis of Edmonton, and I was standing on the back seat of the car, as children did in those days, watching traffic flash by. Suddenly I had this thought: Are the people in those cars alive like I am? Are they as important to themselves as I am to me?
It turns out that they are. I was thinking about this recently while watching seals and cormorants relaxing on the rocky outcropping at the edge of the Cove. What’s going on with them, I wondered; what are their plans for the day? How about that one-legged seagull hopping on the sandbar: how does it manage to scratch its neck or run fast enough to take off in flight?
Of course the needs of our animal friends are different from those of humans. People obsess over clean classrooms and school buses, and lose sleep over any number of complicated health, harvest, weather and political scenarios… “Meanwhile,” as Steven Colbert says, life is refreshingly normal down at the coast. Shorebirds congregate and joyfully pick at edible specks in the sand, unconcerned about facemasks or physical distancing. Two handsome Ruddy Turnstones stand out among a flock of sandpipers: have they been adopted? A great black-backed gull stands by himself, almost, it seems, flexing his muscles as smaller gulls admiringly fly by. Or are they admiring? Maybe size isn’t important to them.
So much we don’t know. Yesterday my friends and I were walking to the Cove when a huge bird glided down from a nearby treetop and landed on the beach where it preened its feathers and hopped about. We knew it was BIG because the scolding crow flying after it was tiny by comparison. What was it? Definitely not a bald eagle because it didn’t have a white head. Maybe it was something terribly rare that had been blown off course in a windstorm. We tried to sneak up on it through the bramble of bayberry and rose bushes, but it didn’t care to be studied and with a few flaps of its giant wings our mystery bird was airborne and away.
We’d noticed that it had a stiff-legged walk and the upper legs were thick and feathered. When we get home it was out with the Peterson Guide: our best guess is that it was a juvenile Bald Eagle. Not rare, but special enough. It had probably been raiding that crow’s nest.
Today the north wind blows in my window, proclaiming: Enough introspection! October’s here! There’s firewood to stack and a garden to turn over. As I go out to the cabin to dig out a warm sweater, some geese are honking overhead… and I wonder if one of them is peering down at me asking,
“Is she alive like I am?”