NOTHING TO DO, STANDING THERE
By Bill Coolidge
Tiptoeing along the stony expanse
of the tidal flat next to the sleepy marina, the heron’s fabulous
tawny brown neck and azure breast feathers remain still, quieted in
this ebbing brackish water. She is waiting for the tide
to bring her a fish. I am waiting
for that pale light tipping the trees of Oakland Hills to ascend.
Far away across the waters I can
see headlights crossing Coast Guard Bridge. An island workplace,
though the two white ships vigil silently, lines taut at the dock.
Only the hum of the ships’ generators reveal that they have an
active life, while tied to port. All I think of is sweat, close
quartered sailors, the relentless noise that never melts into
The cattle egret has just joined
the heron. The plodding tiptoe of a movement, like a dancer taking
gracious time to lift thigh, high, stretch out the leg and then
tenderly, firmly plant the step, the heron moves away.
The singsong has started up, as
if orchestrated among the palms and purple bushes along the pathway.
Three warblers on top of three lightposts begin a chorus. Two coots
paddling toward me create the only wake in the Alameda estuary. I
follow the pattern of their rippling, knowing at daybreak tugs,
power and sailboats will ply these waters creating wakes often
bristling with white, bullying their gentle trails by propeller
strewn discharges. The coots passage will be lost forever so I watch
their rippling wakes, riveted by how four little padded feet can
leave such an intimate telltale.
At daybreak, birds rule. This
time reminds of when I was in 5th grade at Gordon School, in
southwestern Michigan in the mid-50’s. The bell would ring,
recess! My desk by the window had already given me a view of the
playyard, quiet, uninhabited except by squirrel or crow. The bell
rings, my turn! That empty space beckoned. Football in fall,
kickball until it snowed, softball in the spring. Unable to walk as
the door opened, I galloped out.
There is a feisty northwest wind
charging and curving around the docks and sailboats shaping an ‘S’
pattern, calm places, fringed by wind rivulets, changing, exchanging
but I am attracted by the placid pieces of water, astonished at how
the wind can swivel and turn, ignoring the man made things in it’s
This sense of calm is temporary,
I soon see the currents of incoming tide, swelling up, collecting
the coots’ wake hiding their crossing.
No fog now is snagging the sun’s
attempt at illuminating the low lying life where I stand, docks edge
next to the city boat ramp. The heron breasts her feathers, a
flutter, a stoop then a rising as if in that short hop she caught
the first thermal of the sun’s rising. Her wings brush once, then
twice, she levels out about 3 feet above water’s surface. The
cattle egret remains, unmoved by the leavetaking, her head looking
down, looking down.
Like an artist’s canvas,
suggestive not definitive, this dawn does not need my activity nor
yours for completion. This crevice growing between dark sky and
green tree yearns for nothing more, not even an additional
So much of my brittle life has
focused on getting things started and finished, moving on, moving
on, always moving on to the next task. Along the way I made money, a
career, a family, a reputation, achieving ‘closure.’ Always
intent on "tieing up loose ends."
Questions haunt me this morning,
"How am I to have input into this day’s fresh start? Just
what part of it needs my feedback?" When I was a boy, before
the age of 13, I would paddle a canoe out along a rocky edge of an
island point and stare down. The canoe slipping along, a foot or two
above rocks and weeds. Perch and bass would slither in and out of
this human unfriendly bottom and I would stare. Glimpsing a life
unattached to mine.
The perch would often pause, like
a ruffled grouse, ready for angled flight at my next movement, but I
wouldn’t. My curious gaze was enough to quiet their fears and they
would continue the zigzag of their life.
In a few minutes, I will reach
out and hold the hand of my sweetheart and we will walk to my truck
which will transport us to work. Across two bridges, amongst a
thousand cars and trucks on their earnest way to an office, store,
apartment or house. It will be a day of rough edges and surprises,
some sorrow and no doubt anger.
By midday my forehead will be
filled with furrows. Will I pause then?
Will I look out the window of my
workplace, over San Rafael Creek, out the San Francisco Bay, along
the Alameda estuary taking in the ‘S’ configuration that the
wind creates shimmering through the gap of Coast Guard Island and my
Will I stop, gaze and remember?
And not in any wonder or awe, notice that the coot, the egret, the
mallard, the warbler are still singing, paddling, and fishing? Right
through ‘rush hour’ traffic, right through the tugs heading out,
in between the white sheets of sails billowed capturing for a moment
that curving wind?
Life, work, closure are not
detached for these winged ones as they criss cross the waters, as
they wing and sing. Dusk will hasten their silence and roosting.
There will be no ‘closure’ really, as they rest and doze rocked
by water’s swell or caressed by wind’s currents. They are unable
to count up the ‘loose ends’ of the day nor are they harassed by
a long list of items written on a sheet, on a desk, awaiting their
presence at daybreak. Tonight they dream, they trust, they dream.