While minding my own business a few days ago at Magens Bay, taking my usual 60-minute walk-run, something caught my eye as I crossed the bridge over the mangrove lagoon.
I had never seen anything like it. It looked like a little duck. But a tiny duck…and black. And alone.
I slammed on my run brakes to stare at this lone friend. With me leaning over the cement bridge wall, we watched each other for quite a while. Her bright yellow-orange eye kept me in sight as she paddled and dove, popping up a surprising distance from where she had lithely disappeared under the water’s dark brown reflective surface. But always she kept me in her sights…as I kept her in mine.
We communed this way for a good five or more minutes. I could have done longer, but she tired of me and after her last dive, I didn’t see her again. It turns out grebes can submerge themselves just below the surface, leaving only their tiny beaks breathing on the surface.
They are solitary, not normally found in groups, and they can swim from the moment they are born though they usually spend some time on their mothers’ backs, diving and swimming attached to mom.
Of course, at the time I spotted this tiny new friend I knew none of this. As usual, when I see a bird (or duck) on St. Thomas, I rush home to my “Birds of the West Indies.” There she was tiny, solitary, not a duck. Dive-dapper is her colloquial name, according to my reference book – and rare in the Virgin Islands it said.
I wanted to tell somebody. I tried tracking down St. Thomas’s chief bird watcher Mario Francis. No luck as of this writing. So, I am telling whomever reads this.
These are the moments in my life when I feel the overwhelming presence of a Universal power much greater than I. Full disclosure: I am currently enrolled in a two-year program of contemplation and activism founded by a Franciscan priest, which I guess explains some of this, or vice versa.
But this electric-like charge that runs through me when I meet a new creature, or catch the scent of jasmine bushes in bloom or hear the loud, chattering conversations of brown-throated parakeets started when I was a child. I was fortunate to spend some summers at a cottage in northern Pennsylvania situated on a protected lake adjacent to a bird sanctuary. No motorized vessels were allowed on Cranberry Lake. I contented myself with a little sailing sunfish or our row boat. There was a floating dock in the middle of what was not much more than a large pond from which I would launch myself into the murky, mud-bottomed lake to swim in water I probably wouldn’t even wade in today. Wildlife and nature were abundant – I was steeped in it.
What I am trying to say is before we lose touch with where we came from, we feel the connection between ourselves and every other living thing. We are awed by it. Watch a child chasing a butterfly. And if we are lucky, we never lose that connection.
Thank God for the spaces in life where we can make these encounters. One of those places, is our little community, which says something about the Grace that has been bestowed upon us in the Virgin Islands. People come from around the world to experience the incomparable beauty.
If the Universe bestowed such Grace upon us, then I believe she trusted us to take care of it – to not ever take it for granted.
I was upset recently to read in Genesis that God created us – people that is – to hold sway over nature and wilderness. “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Rule over? I asked myself. Surely that’s not what He meant…care for is what I believe He meant. Whether you agree or not, here is what He didn’t say. Kill, force out of their homes, harass, abuse, ignore, mock…none of that. In fact, you could even read this particular translation (and there are many different ones) to mean people were created only for the purpose of caring for nature…”so that they may.”
In fact, I have learned through my studies with my teacher Richard Rohr, the Franciscans call Nature the first Bible. That would make the least grebe and all his brothers and sisters the other wildlife, the trees, the ocean and all of nature, sacred.
Imagine that nature, and specifically Magens Bay park, was our sacred text…and for some it is. Imagine how we would protect it. Imagine that little least grebe were our sister as Francis believed. Imagine how precious she would be to us. Imagine and then act as if.