It was mid morning on a gorgeous sunny Sunday in Miramar Beach, Florida. The sun was warming up. The breeze was cool. I was at the beach for my walk. There were quite a few people beginning to show up there, as Spring Break was in full swing on the Emerald Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. I’m guessing there were easily 3 or four hundred people along the mile of beach to my west, as I had intended to be walking there. I began to walk west in the dry, white crystal singing sand, the gorgeous emerald green water lapping to my left, the green and dark brown stained wooden chairs and umbrellas lining the way to my right, two by two.
I had only taken a few steps when I looked down to see something that made me quite sad and a bit alarmed. There was a large, beautiful black and white polka dotted loon there on the beach. At first, I feared it was dead. I immediately called Michele Phillips. my friend the full time Beach Ambassador on duty. Thankfully the bird was still moving. But it was obviously injured as there was a big chewed up spot on the lower back. I thought that a leg was injured too, but I later learned that loons are unable to walk on sand.
I am a Volunteer Beach Ambassador, as Walton County has organized volunteers and paid folks alike to provide a service to the beach visitors, both local and those who travel up and down the county’s 26 miles of Gulf Of Mexico beauty during the season. Some of the jobs of a beach ambassador, paid or volunteer include educating the four million plus visitors who travel here each year-about the area, what to do and not do to keep sea turtles safe, where to safely set up on the beach so as not to impede the lifeguards-just to name a few.
When I got Michele on the phone, I quickly learned that she had already had reports from concerned visitors hours earlier and that the loon had been on the beach for a few hours. The nearest agency who she had contacted had informed her that they were not going to send someone to pick this loon up, (the loon, which shall now go by the name Lou 2, because the name Lou was already taken, given to me as a nickname by a fellow ambassador.) but they gave instruction on how we could try and save Lou 2 and if we were unsuccessful, we could call them back.
I am partial to loons. For their name, their beauty, for the fact that they migrate to Florida in the winter and the fact that when they shed their feathers, they make me one happy polka dot feather collector as I have a half a jar of them so far.
When I came to Miramar Beach a year ago February to “live” for a month, making sure that the move I did make months later was right for me, I spent every one of those 29 mornings on that beach at sunrise. And when I found my first polka dot feather, I was ELATED! I paint art furniture and painting polka dots is one of my favorite patterns to paint. I get so into it that sometimes my mouth makes a weird clicking noise. I agree that’s weird. But I like my weird.
I even did a little research on Loons and I love the fact that the mother carries the baby on her back! I made some whimsical art, painting a loon and her baby, and I used some of the feathers for the baby’s wing.
As suggested, I wet my beach towel, wrapped Lou 2 up, walked into knee deep water, and floated the towel, hoping he would pop up and be on his way. My concern and sadness went to cheering and hope as Lou 2 came out from under and began to swim out.
My next task, which I felt both honored and so purposeful to do, was to watch Lou 2 to see if he was able to fly, as that was the goal, and report back if Lou 2 was unsuccessful at taking off. I just kept thinking of this story about starfish:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.
Then, smiling at the man, he said…..“I made a difference for that one.”
I began the same walk west that I had originally intended. This was a bit complicated, as by this point, families with lots of little ones were all over my path. Normally, I am just looking at my feet or where I am going when there are so many people. I am 5’10” and it would not be a stretch when I get my stride going for me to drop kick some cute little kid in a diaper suit who was darting from mom into the water. When they are low to the ground like that, kids are twice as fast you know.
So off I went, eyes glued to the black spot that had gotten ahead of me by riding the tide, briskly walking, trying not to lose sight. As the sun was reaching it’s high point, I realized I had no sunscreen and knew this was going to take some time, so I walked up to a mom who was at the water’s edge to my right. “Hi. This is going to sound weird. And I am not going to look at you when I say it. I am watching a bird we are trying to rescue and I have to follow it down the beach. I wasn’t prepared and I have no sunscreen, so would you mind sharing some of yours?” We chuckled as she offered and sprayed my back, while I stared at the water making sure not to lose sight of Lou 2.
I walked along, dodging kids and holes, eyes glued to Lou 2. About a mile in, Lou 2 began to appear bigger, which was not good news, as I had been watching multiple attempts at flight, wings trying hard to spread and take off, sadly followed by a white round belly as Lou 2 was struggling to stay upright.
At the end of a mile, Lou 2 washed up at the feet of the crowd along the beach in their green chairs. I called the ambassador and was advised to sit tight, watch Lou 2 and keep onlookers at a safe distance. Poor Lou 2 had to sit helpless in the sun with all those people looking at her one more time, people who were helpless to help. The agency from earlier now said that they could not come, my understanding was that the loon was not a bird in their jurisdiction of protection and while I understood, I was frustrated for Lou 2. It wasn’t his fault that the universe was directing Lou 2 to Florida and the Gulf to migrate in winter.
Fortunately, Michele made contact with the state, told me they were sending someone and back into action I went. I had borrowed a towel from the umbrella vendor who willingly loaned it to the cause. My towel was soggy and a mile east, hanging off the back of a green chair I had not rented, along with my keys and my clothes. This was not a naked rescue. I was wearing my suit.
I was instructed to wet the towel, wrap Lou 2 up, and walk that mile back to get Lou 2 to where the state would be arriving for pick up. I was nervous. Would I get bit? Would I drop Lou 2? I stopped thinking and went into action, gathering a posse of support. A dad, who was moral support and phone valet to carry my phone said yes when I asked for someone to help if I could not make the whole walk back. His teenage daughters came too, and did a lovely job of grabbing my things from that green chair on our way down.
I wetted the towel, wrapped Lou 2 up, and began a brisk walk, intent not to cause Lou 2 any more trauma than had already ensued. Dad and his daughters followed behind, dad saying how he was just talking about needing to get more steps in.
When Lou 2 squirmed, I was happy and nervous. Happy at the fight still left, nervous that I might drop the towel. There were moments of rest when I was calm and concerned, hoping Lou 2 was only resting. And just a few steps into this last mile trek, I began to silently repeat this prayer, “God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” This calmed me and also made the baby sized creature I held cradled against my heart feel like a part of me. I had imprinted with Lou 2.
The final step now was again, to wait. It was easier because there was help on the way and now Lou 2, that big brave feathered friend and part of my heart was now resting in the sand under a nice big umbrella out of the hot sun. Side by side, Lou 2 and I were enjoying the rest of the shade.
The woman from the forest service arrived to take Lou 2, at which point I told her I loved her, and Lou 2 and asked to please be kept informed as to the outcome.
It was not the Sunday I had planned, but I was so grateful I got to be a part of that 3 hour adventure. No Gilligan or Skipper, but count me as the millionaire because the value of the experience was infinite.
I will come back and let you know what I hear beyond this text that came in today. In the meantime, send out love and light for Lou 2 please. Thank you.
Update: It has been nine days since I last heard how Lou 2 was doing. I am happy to share the following text from the woman who brought him to be cared for. Yay!