Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Pelican Who Went Up a Mountain

This is my one and only children's story, born of a dream about a pelican lost in the mountains.

Gomez was a pelican - a fine tubby sea bird with feet larger than the average pelican and a handsome dark eye...good for spotting fish just below the surface of the bay. He spent his days as most pelicans do in San Francisco sitting on a barnacle-covered pylon waiting, waiting for the fish. As he sat there throughout the day, Gomez would not only scan the bay for fish, but he would watch the sailboats, the motorboats, the ferries, the tug boats, the great noisy ocean liners, and his favorite of all, the tankers. The boats would go up and down the channel all day and Gomez liked to imagine where they were headed - great foreign places like Los Angeles, San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, Panama, Lima, and as far away as Rio De Janeiro. Gomez could only dream of such places and of the fantastic journey to them.

But then suddenly Gomez would see the silver darting of a fish just below the surface of the green salt water below his pylon and thoughts of far away places would be replaced by a more immediate and pressing need - the need to dive! And dive Gomez would - his seemingly cumbersome stout little frame would flatten and like an olympian Gomez would bullet into the water and open his great long beak with the built-in net and he would return to the surface and the lovely sparkling sunlight with his catch - a terrific squirming fat fish - and back up on the pylon, Gomez would throw his head as far back as he could, and with some wonderful gyration that he learned from his mother, down the fish would go into Gomez’s gullet. What a satisfying meal! And all the while the sea gulls would hover over Gomez, hoping that he might drop his catch for them to scavenge...but this had never happened and never would. Satisfied and happy with his fish, Gomez would return to his statue-like stance on his pyling and continue to watch the ships come and go beneath the the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.

This was the life of Gomez - nothing more, nothing less - he expected it to continue this way, just as it had for his mother and her mother before her and his father and his father before him. Because they had lived the same life, Gomez was very content to carry on the tradition - this great pelican tradition. But it was not to be - Gomez was about to meet adventure, as great an adventure as any pelican had every seen!

His adventure began with a great storm. The bay was no stranger to storms that the Pacific would cook up and send its way - the storms would descend upon the bay with bruise colored clouds, ferocious winds, cold pelting rain and terrific thunder that resounded across the water like the gods were playing a timpani in the sky. When the storms came, even before the storms came, the sea birds took flight. They could feel the storm coming from miles and miles away and there was a great cacophony that would arise over the bay when the birds learned of the approaching storm. Gomez had been through this drill many times, but he remained calm, most of the pelicans did - it was the sea gulls who would raise their voices and riot about the sky. They would mob the others and insist that panic was the only way to go.

And so the birds would take to the roiling sky and head inland away from the bay. They would camp in parking lots, on golf courses, in school playgrounds. Anywhere, as long as it was inland and away from the storm front. As if to insult the birds’ great warnings, the ships would do just the opposite - they would head out to sea, to the open waters to ride out the bucking bronco of the cyclone that was headed in their direction.

This particular storm came slowly and quietly and because of this, Gomez did not feel the urgency that the other birds were exhibiting. Gomez decided to take his time - he watched the ships one by one leave the bay. He watched the people frantically batten down their sail boats and motor boats and house boats. He took advantage of the now dwindling crowd of birds to catch more fish than usual! His belly was quite full and made him sleepy - he teetered there on his pylon as the world seemed to go wild around him. He thought, “there is just no reason to hurry, I hear the storm but it is still miles and miles away, I have plenty of time to pack up and leave.” And so, Gomez fell asleep, fast asleep on his pylon.

Gomez was awoken in the middle of the night by a colossal crash - it was him, being swept by the wind off of his pylon across the bay into the side of a sail boat. Our dear Gomez was in great danger now - he was in the water, the angry water and it was pitch black. The city was dark, the Golden Gate Bridge was nowhere to be seen because the storm was upon it and had hidden it from view. Gomez gasped for air and beat his wings and after much struggle he was airborne - but his flight was not under his control. Gomez was a slave to the storm. It was all he could do to keep his wings perpendicular with the sky - at least he thought he was perpendicular. It was so dark and the rain was so violent that Gomez had no idea that he was actually flying upside down!

Debris, flotsam and jetsam! Gomez was not alone in the sky - but he was not with other birds, he was in a cyclone of garbage. Spinning and diving and climbing, Gomez tried desperately to get higher in the sky, to rise above this dangerous mess - the higher he got, the less debris and flotsam and jetsam he was having to avoid. He righted himself and while the rain still beat him and the wind still carried him, he was now moving quiet comfortably away from the bay. Gomez became one with the storm and decided that no matter what, he would be safe. Gomez let the winds carry him and carry him - he wished for some sign, a star, a blinking light, a lit window in building, but there was only darkness and the howl of the storm that reminded him of the motorboats that would zoom by his pyling on sunny days.

When the light of morning came, Gomez was finally flying of his own accord, the storm had veered away from him. The air was cold and sharply clear. And below was the strangest sight that Gomez had ever seen. Rocks, big rocks, rocks the size of tankers and cruise ships! And below the rocks were clouds...pink and purple clouds and mist. And below the mist, were trees, trees like Gomez had never seen. Splendid old trees - pines and spruces and firs! Cottonwoods, aspens, and oaks. Gomez was amazed. He soared for a time observing this strange and beautiful place. He hoped he might see some of the other sea birds, but not a one was there. He was exhausted and decided to land on a rock. It felt good to be still and quiet after such a long night.

Gomez sat for the longest time and realized that his tummy was beginning to grumble. He was hungry and thought, “surely it is safe to begin flying back to the bay and start fishing!” So up he went, off the rock and he began to fly and soon it occurred to him that he was very, very high in the sky, higher than he had ever been. So he began to make a descent and now he was flying just above the marvelous trees that he had discovered earlier that morning and when he looked toward the horizon, he saw nothing but trees and these ship-like rocks...mountains! As Gomez continued to fly, he realized he was lost! He was in a land he had never seen before. The skies were huge and wide and there were no airplanes, no buildings, no bridges, and no sea birds. But what was worse was that there was no sea!

Gomez landed on a tree - he had never sat in a tree. Sea birds did not sit in trees! Song birds and land birds sat in trees. The tree was prickly and smelled of something unfamiliar to Gomez - he longed for the salty smell of the bay, but it was not here.

Suddenly there was a terrific crashing in the shrubs below. Gomez froze. It was a bear! A huge and terrible bear that began to stand upright and put his great paws upon Gomez’s tree. The bear grunted and made horrible noises - Gomez was terrified. The bear stretched and now his sharp claws were only inches from Gomez. “My goodness!! What are you doing up there?” called the bear to Gomez.

“I am lost!” shouted Gomez down to the bear, he had nothing to lose by answering the big beast’s question. Perhaps the bear would tell him how to get home.

“Great Scott! I have never seen such a bird! Where did you get such a long beak!”

“I am from the sea. Can you tell me how to get back to the sea?” Gomez asked the bear and then to impress the bear, he dropped his fishing net from the bottom of his long beak. The bear gasped.

“Such a thing to have! What in heaven’s name is that for?”

“Fishing!” replied Gomez, no longer afraid of the bear.

“A fish net attached to your face! My man, this is a great development in my morning! Come, come. I have no idea where this thing you call the sea is. But, I can take you to the river and we can fish! I am Harry and you are?”


The bear pushed back from the tree and went back on to all fours. “Gomez, come on down, I’ll give you ride!” And so Gomez flew down and lighted upon Harry’s furry back. Harry and Gomez lumbered beneath the shade of the fir trees down a steep and rocky trail. Soon, Gomez could hear the rushing of the river. Water! He was still far far away from home, but at least the bear had brought him to something familiar, something that he could navigate.

Harry and Gomez stopped at the edge of the river. It was a wide river, and there were rapids, foaming and rushing and spinning eddies that caught the light of the sun. It was cold there, and now Gomez could look up to the mountain tops that he had come down from with the bear and he was astounded at this place. The Rockies! He felt very small and out of place, but more than that he was hungry!

“So Harry, how’s the fishing here?”

“Well, my good friend, I hope we are up to your standards, which must be very high, considering you come from a place where everyone has a fish net attached to their face!”

“Oh, not everyone has a fish net, only pelicans have a fish net! Others, the other sea birds, they fish in many different ways. How do you fish?”

“Well, I’ll show you.” and with that Harry waded out into the cold rushing river waters and he stood on all fours with the current blasting against his face and he plunged his enormous head into the the oncoming rapids and up he came with a magnificent and rainbow colored salmon in his jaws! The salmon struggled and swung and flailed, but it was no match for Harry, who just clamped his teeth deeper into the salmon’s flesh. The salmon had no escape! Harry returned to the banks and dropped the fish on to the rocks in front of Gomez. The fish flopped about, the last of living energy leaving him. Gomez was aghast at this feat! But the fish, the fish was too big for him to swallow whole!

“My dear friend, Harry, I have never seen such a thing! The sea birds would be astounded by your skill! Are all the fish this big? I’m afraid he’s too big for me. I couldn’t possibly catch a fish like him and swallow him. “ Harry took the head of the fish in his jaws and placed a great sharp paw upon the tail and with one horrible rip, he tore the fish in half. “Will that do for ya?” Gomez was relieved, and he could not believe his fortune to find this good friend so far away from home. Gomez picked up the smaller part of the fish, threw his head back and down went the salmon into his gullet. What a morning!

And then Harry had an idea. “You know friend, down a ways from these rapids is a lake. I rarely fish there, because the place is frequented by a moose that I don’t get along with too well. But I can take you there and I am certain the fishing will be just right for you there. You won’t get washed away by the white water and the fish are smaller. Trout are about your size I think.”

So Gomez and Harry trundled off into a beautiful aspen forest and Harry told Gomez stories of the mountains and Gomez told Harry stories of the sea. Harry spoke of harsh winters and mountain goats and hikers who ran from him. Gomez regaled Harry with tales of ships and sail boats and how the sea gulls annoyed him.

Gomez was having so much fun with Harry, that he almost forgot that he was lost. But the feeling came back to him as they emerged from the golden aspen forest into a meadow filled with violet lupens that led the way to a lake. A body of blue water such that Gomez had never seen...the sunlight danced on the surface like the little lights that Gomez would see on the waterfront at night along the bay. “Harry, do you think that this moose, that she might know how to get back to the sea?”

“I doubt it Gomez. But, it won’t hurt to ask. You are going to have to ask yourself though, This is where I leave you. The moose and I don’t mix well. Her name is Gertrude. You would do well not to mention me!” And with that, Harry turned back from the meadow and disappeared into the yellow forest. Gomez felt more alone than he had ever felt before, but he would find Gertrude and perhaps she could lead him closer to the sea.

Gomez decided to fly to the lake and so he took to the air over the lupens and my, how wonderful it felt, to be in the air, so wonderful that he took a loop around the lake and looked up at the mountains and down at the beautiful waters. And surprise, surprise, there at the water’s edge was Gertrude! She was quite a thing to see, tall and lanky and those antlers! Her antlers were so big that she rivaled the Golden Gate Bridge with her presence. But before Gomez could even begin to approach her, he was taken by a sight he could not ignore - fish! schools and schools of them in the water below and so he dove! Gomez crashed into the icy mountain lake and came up with a net full of trout! He flew to the bank of the lake and landed, where he upturned his long sharp beak and wriggled until all the trout went down his gullet! These were certainly perfect fish for him!

But something told Gomez he was in danger...he felt a shadow come over him. It was Gertrude! “My heavens! What in the world are you?!”

“I’m a pelican.” Gomez replied. Gertrude put her snout right at the tip of his beak. She glared at him.

“a pellywhat?” she demanded.

“A PELICAN!” Gomez puffed hard back in her big brown face, he was ready to fly away.

“And wheeeere did you come from?” she leaned harder into his beak.
“The Sea.” replied Gomez, now he spread his wings and was preparing to beat her with them if necessary.

“The sea? what is the sea?” and with this question from Gertrude, Gomez knew that she could not tell him how to get home. But now she backed away from him and tilted her head coyly. “tell me about the sea...”

“It is greater than this lake...it is vast and full of fish. It is my home. But I am lost and I was hoping that you might be able to tell me how to get to the sea. But it seems that you know even less than Harry about the sea.” Oh dear, Gomez realized that he was not supposed to mention Harry!

“Harry? Harry? You are a friend of Harry’s?!” she came back at Gomez and bowled him over, he landed on the water’s edge, and so he paddled backwards until he was a comfortable distance from her.

“Not exactly a friend...” Gomez stuttered, he tried to think quickly, “He brought me here for the fish. He was veeeery complimentary of you and said that you might know the way back to the sea, because you are worldly and well-travelled.” This worked, Gertrude tilted her head again and coyly remarked, “Harry complimented me?” she batted her big eye lashes and continued, “Why that big old bear, I never knew he cared!” Gomez took this chance to ask her another question. “Do you know anyone who might know the way to the sea?”

“Yes, yes I do. The eagle would know. He knows everything. He’s quite annoying, a real braggart! He could probably tell you how to get back to the sea, if he doesn’t eat you first.”

“Eat me!?!” Gomez was horrified.

“Yes, the eagle, I’m afraid is not a trustworthy friend to other birds. And you would be a good meal for him, plump as you are. But perhaps you could let him in on some of those fantastic fishing habits of yours and he might think twice about doing away with you.”

“I don’t know if I want to take that chance.” Gomez said.

“Well, then there really is only one other possibility.” suggested Gertrude.

“and what is that?” Gomez swam closer the the shore.

“well, you could fly to the top of our highest mountain. And from there, perhaps you could find the sea.” Gomez liked this idea much more than meeting the eagle.

“Thank you, thank you for this suggestion. I will head to the mountain top straightaway!” And with that, Gomez wasted no more time with Gertrude, who was far too unpredictable to spend any more time with. He had a belly full of fish and he took to the sky. He flew up, up, up, up, up, toward the highest mountain top. He had never flown quite like this, it was hard work to ascend into the heavens -- he was used to gliding along the waters of the bay and landing here and there to rest or floating in the little currents until he was ready to fly again, But this, this was a task, but he knew that it was his only hope of finding home.

When Gomez reached the mountain top, he was overtaken by the beauty of the world around him. Way below were the tremendous forests that Harry had guided him through and he could see the big river, where he imagined the bear to be taking an afternoon nap, his belly full of salmon. But Gomez’s wonder and amazement fell away quickly to disappointment. As high as he was on this mountain top, as much as he could see of the surrounding world, he could not see the SEA! It was out of the reach of his keen fisherman’s eyes. And so Gomez began to cry. He thought he would never see home again, and he missed it so. He missed the ships and the little brightly colored sail boats that whisked by him on summer afternoons. He missed all the other pelicans and the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. He even missed the sea gulls!

Night began to fall and there sat Gomez, on the highest mountain in the Rockies. He was terribly cold and terribly sad. He thought to himself that he should fly down from the mountain and wait in a tree till morning -- perhaps he could find Harry again and they could remain friends. There was plenty of trout for him in the lake. These were ideas that comforted him, but he still wanted to get home. There was no place like the bay for a pelican!

The stars began to ring on and they were brighter than Gomez had ever seen. Surely they would look down on him in mercy and give him some luck -- if the stars could not help him, then no one could. He shivered himself to sleep on the mountain top and dreamed he was on his pylon in the bay.

Morning came with a bed of clouds below. The sun was blinding and the mountain top was less hospitable than it was the previous evening. The stars had not given Gomez any new ideas, so he decided to begin his descent off the mountain and look for Harry. Gomez spread his tired wings and began to glide down through the floor of puffy clouds, he consoled himself by the thought that at least flying back down was much, much easier that flying up!

And then while flying somewhat blind in the clouds, Gomez heard a cacophony in the distance. It was a familiar ruckus, one that he heard often on the bay. But it couldn’t be, not here.. not here near the mountain top? or could it? perhaps he was hallucinating...yes, that was it, he was imagining things because his stomach was empty. The cacophony was getting louder and closer though and all of the sudden it overtook him and there was a terrific crash of feathers!

Falling, falling, tumbling in a tangle of wings and feathers the troupe of birds and Gomez emerged below the clouds and they all caught themselves and righted their flight patterns and began to fly together. It was Peter, Paul and Mary! The sea gulls!

“Gomez! our man! we have been looking all over these dreaded mountains for you!”

“You have?” Gomez replied as the gulls did loop-dee-loops in the sky to celebrate finding Gomez.

“Yes our boy! What a relief to find you. Everyone has been just crazy with worry. Your mother hasn’t fished for days!”

“But, but how did you know where to look?” as Gomez asked this question, he and the sea gulls made a wide sweeping turn and began to fly away from the rising sun to the west...to the sea!

“A salmon, old boy! He came to the bay yesterday morning and started squawking about a pelican. Said a bear told him to get to the sea right away and let the birds know about a lost pelican. Of course, we knew right away, he was talking about you!”

“Oh heavens above, Harry! Harry, you saved me!” and with that they flew and flew and flew, with a westerly wind at their backs towards home. That evening Gomez would sit upon his pylon and watch the ships return to the bay after the storm. He no longer wondered about their adventurous voyages, because he could revel in his own.

The End

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