The Pelican’s Guests


At the end of September, my family rendezvoused on Upper Klamath Lake in southern Oregon. We paddled the canoe trail from Rocky Point to Malone Spring. In this picture, my husband and niece are waiting for us to bring the rest of the gear. What you can’t see are the clouds of little fish swimming beneath the dock and the constant chatter and splashes of the Kingfishers diving from trees along the shore. Although the morning has this calm, dreamlike quality, we are about to embark into an explosion of fish and birds.

Once on the water, we enter the wildlife refuge and become guests in their home. It’s humbling to feel so out-numbered and out-maneuvered by critters. Around every meander, flocks of birds take off or watch us steadily as we slip by. Ibis, egrets, herons, ducks, geese, pelicans, and eagles feast on marsh plants and fish. Fish leap skyward after insects. Columns of insects spiral above us, glowing in the sunlight against the deep shadows of the forest. Dragonflies mate, fight, and crash into the water. Everywhere we look, the sky animals plunder the aquatic world and the water animals snatch their meals from the air.

We float tenuously amid their give and take, a temporary obstacle to work around — or make use of. Fish fry hide in the shadows of our boats while dragonflies ride along until their wings dry and they rise to fight again.

I look up as a pelican cruises ten feet above our heads, its wingspan as long as the kayak. I wish I could hitch a ride on the pelican’s back and gain an aerial view of the marsh’s twisting channels, but I’m a creature whose access to this world comes from inventiveness, not natural adaptation. I’m tethered to my little boat and can only imagine the perspectives of the creatures above and below. But on a quiet autumn day, paddling for miles, there’s space and time enough to dream our way into a wilder life.