A person can get a general idea of where a place is by looking at a map, but you never really know anything about it until you go there and smell and feel it for yourself.
In the same way I’ve read about gannets and admired them plummeting into the sea in Les Îles de la Madeleine, but I never expected to touch one or hold it in my arms.
One hot afternoon in early September the tide was out and the Cove was hopping. We chatted with a neighbour girl now grown up and bringing her own children to the shore, admired two hermit crabs clasped in a small sandy hand, waded through shallow tidal pools, skirted around a flock of terns chirping and bobbing, and finally arrived at deep water. Perfection! Azure sky, billowing clouds, sparkling waves, good company… but hello, what was that floating white object? Probably a buoy. I like a good buoy as well as anyone so decided to swim over and check it out.
Nope, it’s a dead bird… with a yellow head and neck. Could it be… a gannet? This isn’t gannet territory. Still, here it is. What should we do about it? Let it wash up on shore with all these people around? What if it died of Avian flu and another bird eats it? We’d better take it home and call the Vet College.
Clasping the bird in my arms (it was the size of a small baby but much lighter) I carried it tenderly to shore. Such a beauty! Feathers whiter than white, long complicated beak, dark oval eyes wide open, big black webbed feet, black wingtips—everything seemingly in perfect condition. On land a helpful bystander verified with her phone that it was indeed a gannet and gave me a plastic bag to carry it.
Back at the house I washed my hands and swimming suit, took a shower, and called the Vet College: “No, we don’t need any gannets. And you shouldn’t touch it since it probably died of Avian Flu.” Too late. I called Fish and Wildlife: “Bury it.” Accordingly it was interred with a minimum of pomp under the apple tree. I would have liked to study it more but what with Avian Flu and all… At least I thought to take a photo so that I could paint its portrait.
So what else is happening. Last month I mentioned we were planning to hold a Berry Social here in the Cove. Yes it happened and it was wonderful. People were so thrilled to see one another that the ice cream and berries were almost an afterthought. Having tables outside on a calm evening with no mosquitoes (!) worked perfectly. We’ll do it again next summer.
Now autumn beckons. A spectacular harvest moon has come and gone. Firewood is being stacked, squirrels are stashing chestnuts in secret places and plump well-fed Canada geese are honking their farewells.
Meanwhile, under the apple tree our gannet rests peacefully, dreaming of soaring through wide-open skies and plunging into fish-filled seas.