Today, while out bike riding on the Westbank of the Mississippi, I saw a flock of white pelicans that spread halfway to the horizon. This was the biggest flock I had ever seen, robust and sparkling in the morning sunlight. But it reminded me of a not-so-beautiful time 10 years ago, or so, that I was responding to an oil spill as the Coast Guard’s Public Affairs Officer, and was escorting a press group to an expansive barn that housed a sea of Brown Pelican chicks. The chicks were being rescued off Breton Sound after an oil spill had marinated them, their parents, and their rookery, in Gulf crude. They were being attended by trained responders from across the nation that had come to help clean and feed them. It was a sight that made tough people (like me) choke up, but the emotional tipping point happened when I saw the solitary clutch of small, white pelican chicks, adrift in a sea of brown juveniles. It gut-punched me, like the red coat scene from Schindler’s List, and it dealt me a mental scar that never fully healed.
Most of the chicks didn’t make it in spite of the monumental efforts of trained volunteers on their behalf. the press vaporized, ignoring the story in favor of one on a Congressman-gone-rancid, who tried to hide money, not his, in his freezer.
Seeing this flock today was magical; but seeing it after that sad day in the rescue barn made it feel like a unicorn sighting.