By Vince Basehart
It is one of those early winter days following a rainstorm that
brings photographers out to shoot postcards of Santa Monica.
Sunny and bright, clouds float across the sky like dandelion fluff for no other
reason than to provide contrast to a sky as blue as lapis. Warm in the sun,
crisp in the shade. It is the kind of day which makes visiting Minnesotans weep
on the flight home.
It is the kind of day that gets the Lens out on the beach for a power walk.
I trot northward as close to the water as I can in my sneakers, dodging the
up-rushing foam along with the nimble sandpipers and chubby little white birds
which poke their beaks into the sand left glossy by the retreating water. I
breathe in deep lungsful of clean, salty air.
As I look ahead, choosing a point across from the glass turret-shaped building
on PCH to which I will walk and then turn around, I see something in my path
just inches from the crawling line of sea-wash.
One of the sandpipers is sitting in the wet sand as if nesting. It doesn't
"That doesn't seem right," says a dark-haired man about my age walking
the opposite direction towards me, as we both converge on the bird.
"No, it doesn't," I say.
"I wonder if he's got a line tied around him," says the man, and
we both approach the bird, stooping in the dainty manner with which adults approach
The bird is a living Audobon illustration at arm’s length, a distance
which a healthy sandpiper will not let you come within. Its perfectly layered
dark brown feathers are flecked with white spots, its head sleekly aerodynamic,
its body plump and buoyant. The bird has folded its legs beneath himself like
bendable drinking straws.
He glares up at us with small brick red eyes and silently opens its narrow
beak in warning. Naively hoping he is just sunbathing and will dart away with
a little encouragement, or that we will find the offending line binding him
and easily untangle it, I remove my cap and nudge his rear end with the bill.
He can only amble, painfully, a few steps up the beach and plop back down again.
One of his legs is injured.
"Poor thing," I say.
"I can see how people get into cleaning birds after oil spills,"
says the man.
"Yeah," I nod. We are helpless.
We look at each other sadly and shake our heads and continue on our opposite
ways. We know the sandpiper's case is hopeless, beyond our intervention.
I walk twenty yards and look back at the bird and see that the man is also
looking back at the poor creature.
Perhaps as an antidote to my feeling of powerlessness, as I continue up the
beach I am seized to pick up trash from the sand and toss it into the steel
drums. For a few minutes I pick up the larger stuff -- Gatorade bottles, kids’
plastic beach shovels, a rope, a lone sandal, chunks of styrofoam -- and dispose
of them, feeling some how I’m doing it for the doomed bird.
On the way back down the beach I believe for a moment that I am at the spot,
now empty, where I passed the bird, and for a second I am elated, thinking the
sandpiper has flown away after all. But down a few more yards there he is, frozen
on the sand, his back to the water which is creeping closer up towards him.
I do not bother him this time.
I continue down the beach entertaining fantasies of bringing the sandpiper
home and nursing it to health with mashed up anchovy filets. His leg will mend
while he resides in a shoe box warmed by an electric heating pad until the day
I can release him triumphantly back into the wild.
It is ridiculous, of course, and I know it is. The sandpiper will perish. I
assure myself it is all part of the cycle of life. And I remind
myself that this beach, no matter how many volleyball players, joggers,
bicycle rental facilities or lifeguard towers it contains, is Nature