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Helping a pelican in peril
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At first, the bird was just a blur, bobbing on the ocean waves just off-shore. My wife Betty and I were recently relaxing on the beach at Gulf Shoes, Ala., when we noticed the feathered form floating on the foam a few yards away, but we couldn’t tell immediately what it was.
Suddenly a huge wave swept over it, sending it crashing and thrashing onto the beach a few feet from us. Clearly, this was a pelican in peril. We rushed to the great bird’s aid.
Our first priority was to calm the bird down, even as we examined it thoroughly to determine the extent of its injuries.
Fortunately, we had help from a lady named Sandy Dowdie, from Oakland, Tenn.
I asked her to hold the pelican’s wings and body gently but firmly, so we could check its condition. What we found was a fishhook, imbedded in the pelican’s bill, and attached to a line with another fishhook lodged in its body.
Thus entangled, the bird’s bill, head and neck were twisted grotesquely into a death grip. Just in time, a young man from Louisiana, who was no stranger to fish hooks and lines or pelicans in peril, used his expertise and trusty pocket knife to help us free the bird from his perilous plight. Another young man also helped.
Meanwhile, a small crowd had clustered around the rescue scene to encourage us as we tried to save the injured bird. Thank God, we were successful! Moments after our rescue efforts began, they ended on a happy note. We released the pelican gingerly and with some trepidation. This had been a traumatic experience for the bird, and we didn’t know what its reaction might be.
Upon release from human hands, the great bird took a few faltering steps in the sand, then flapped his massive wings furiously and soared skyward. “The wind beneath his wings,” that day was our little band of bird rescuers, cheering the pelican onward and upward. Our cheers were echoed by shouts of acclamation from the rest of the crowd that had just witnessed the pelican’s rescue.
In that bright shining moment in time, there on that stretch of sand at Gulf Shores, something like a miracle happened. A pelican in peril was saved from certain death by a handful of human beings with nothing in common but their common compassion-and concerted action to do the right thing for one of God’s amazing creatures.
I can’t speak for the others who lent their loving, helping hands to the imperiled pelican that day, but for me, it was a significant, emotional, even spiritual, experience. In the grand scheme of things, it was a ripple in the sand. Yet, ripples resonate outward, in ways we may never fully understand, but which we hold in our hearts, minds and memories forever.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at