Death dominates the bay’s edge in midwinter. Life needs light, and the sun’s long shadows tell the story.
The gulls, beasts of the beach, are dwindling in number, seemingly mocked by the diving ducks, beasts of the bay, who arrive each winter, exuberant and alive, finding plenty of life beneath the gray-steel surface of the Delaware Bay.
The day’s walk was punctuated with whelk collars and angel wings left by the receding tide. No ice today, but more is coming next week.
As I walked I was startled by a large crow–I had stumbled close enough to hear its wings beat the air as it rose from the beach. Crows are uncommon on the beach–they usually have a reason why they’re here. In a moment I saw why.
In the summer, northern gannets can be seen crashing into the bay–they easily swim to the bottom, then grab bunker as they glide up through the water to resurface. In the summer light the birds look impossibly white.
Here on our beach lies a bird that has traveled thousands of miles in its lifetime. It has been dead for at least a few days, its eyes no longer the bay blue gray of the living.
Its beak looks startlingly lethal, the serrated edges the last thing felt by thousands of writhing fish caught when this gannet still breathed.
Despite the long shadows, the cold air, the slate upon gray where the sky meets the bay, there are splashes of color among the dead, a reminder that the light is returning, and spring will return for those who can hold out through the winter.
Only a few humans walked this particular beach this particular afternoon, and there were as many dog prints as boot prints. But at least one soul bared her soles on this chilly January afternoon, a mortal’s reminder to live.