|Please don't eat my shorts|
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As we pass through our everyday lives, we occasionally see something that reminds us we are mortal. Perhaps we are watching the daily news, or perhaps we stumbled on some viral video from the internet, or maybe we are the witness to an awful accident of some kind. In any case, we tend to spend our days unaware that injury and death sit only a few inches from our personal proximity. And while we may think otherwise, horrible things don't just happen to other people, they can happen to all of us.|
I recently had one of those moments where my mortality came into question. I wanted to relay this story to everyone, not to be a harbinger of death, but to remind everyone that the end comes eventually - whether you are ready or not.
My wife and two children had come with me out to our secret beach in South Texas. We have a beach that we frequent which is in a location that only Texas Parks and Wildlife employees know about. We love this particular beach as it is always empty, and on any given day we can fish, swim, and even walk out to the jetties when the tide is out. For a weekend away, nothing is better than taking the family to a secret beach where you can have your entire day to yourself.
"Having a secret beach means that you never have to swim in someone elses urine."
If anything, a secret beach means that many of the 'unpleasantries' of public beaches can be forgotten, such as the people in swimwear which is 4 sizes too small. A secret beach means that a family of 14 will not setup a 'camp' 5 inches from your umbrella. A secret beach means that no dogs will wander onto the beach and take a crap on your floatie, and it also means that you do not have to sit next to your floatie wishing you had a concealed handgun license to 'train' that dog with. Having a secret beach means that you never have to swim in someone elses urine.
But I digress.
As we arrived at the secret beach I immediately started to scan for signs of fish. In this part of the coast, if there are any fish in the area, you will see indications of them in the water. The wind was howling that day, but even with all the whitecaps it was clear that there would be no abundance of fish this day.
Since fishing was out, I decided to take my son out to the end of a large jetty. On this particular jetty lives a number of very old Pelicans, and we had a history of walking out when the tide was low to see the Pelicans in their nests. Now to some this would sound pretty pedantic, but these were not your usual Pelicans. Since this was a secret beach, the Pelicans had rarely seen people. As a result they didn't fly away when you came up to them - you could get up close and personal with the Pelicans if you wanted to. In the 15+ years I had been going out there, we never had a problem with any of the Pelicans. But then again, today was another day.
It should also be mentioned that these were not your run-of-the-mill pelicans. These were Texas Pelicans. Picture a Pelican that can completly swollow a medium-sized dog, and you probably have a better view of *our* Pelicans.
That day the tide was only partially out. To make it to the end of the jetty, my son and I would have to walk out about 1/2 a mile. But, since the wind was blowing so hard it was difficult to know how deep the water was and I decided to carry my 6-year-old out to the jetty. I hoisted him onto my back and we headed out into the drink.
One great thing about Texas beaches is that they are shallow, warm, and you can walk out for miles before you have to swim. So it was going to be a nice brisk walk through the shallows to get to our Pelicans - or so I thought.
As we approached the first Pelican nest about 2/3rds of the way to the end of the jetty I turned back to check on my wife and daughter - they had taken to the water for some kind of game of tag or something. I saw them running about in the shallows and tried to yell something, but with the distance and the stiff wind, they could not hear anything I was saying. Looking back on the experience, the moment I couldn't communicate with my family should have been the moment I headed back to the shore, but I had no reason to think anything could happen to us. After all, horrible things could never happen to us, right?
My boy and I got out a little farther. The water was up to my waist and we were nearly at the end of the jetty, but we plowed on trying to get to this little place where we would be in the middle of at least a dozen Texas Pelicans. It was the best place to get a view of all the Pelicans. When we were about 5 feet from one of the monster Pelicans something very odd happened - every bird I could see suddenly took to the sky at exactly the same moment.
Now, seeing a Texas-sized pelican take off is quite spectacular. The birds are so large that when 2 or three take off in front of you they block out the sun for a few seconds. But seeing 10's of thousands of birds all suddenly take off at the same time, and do so in every visible direction simultaneously makes some primal alarm go off in your head. Though one may have never seen this before, there is something in our physiology that tells our brains that something has gone terribly bad when certain things happen.
(By the way, if you get this feeling in the future it is strongly recommended that you follow you gut and get the hell out of there like your life depends on it - it just may)
As my son was asking why all the Pelicans left I was frozen in place trying to take the situation in. Only about 5 seconds had passed and yet there was not one flying animal as far as the eye could see. For some reason my pea brain keep trying to tell me that something very bad was afoot and all I could do was stand there and try to process all the conflicting input.
After a few more precious seconds ticked by I found myself wanting to leave the area. I can't put my finger on it, but in the confusion of the birds leaving the only rational thought I could muster was to get out. I was not sure why, but it seemed that getting out of the water was the best couse of action.
I turned to face the beach and start walking back. I saw my wife and daughter in the water still running about and splashing each other, but in my saltwater tinged view I swear I saw a third person.
Funny how people that wear glasses will take off their glasses when they want to be 'sure' they are seeing what they think they are seeing - and that's exactly what I did. I pulled off my sunglasses to try to identify the visitor and then realized there was no visitor - there was a fin which was the same size as a visitor.
When you find yourself in some life-or-death situation you will have to try to prove to your brain that what your eyes are seeing is real. I recall the few seconds in the water where I was actually having an argument with myself:
"That's a big fin over there, right?"
"Well, it looks like a fin, but something that big would tend to eat a person and that cannot be right, right?"
"If that is not a fin, how many triangle-shaped people have you met?"
"There are no birds anywhere"
"Fins are not that large, it cannot be a fin"
"The fin is moving around in the water. But it cannot be a fin"
"Is that a big fin over there or not?"
"This couldn't be happening to me, could it?"
"Stop thinking and do something dumbass!"