Saturday, we decided to do some bird watching, since I’d read that avocet breed near where we live.* We decided to get a few hours in before taking Hunter to an afternoon birthday party (he’s been invited to a birthday party every weekend for the rest of his school year). As usual, I was running late, but we picked a friend to go with us and drove toward the beach recommended to us by our landlord.
At the trailhead, Hunter saw a child from his school so that we met the parents, a French couple. We met a Swedish young man and his friendly, well-groomed, long-haired, blonde dog. We observed a new way of avoiding the plastic bag duty of dog-watching: Toothpick Swedish flags staked in piles of dog dung. Wonder if that had been the young man’s idea?
Hunter enjoyed crossing the wooden bridges over the waters of the marsh before we reached the Skanör beach. He lay in the sand gathering tiny muscle and clam shells before we’d reached the Sound. I urged him to stand up and keep from getting too dirty before the birthday party, as we expected to take him there after this little hike.
The lovely, deep blue water faded into emerald green as it approached the shallows. Each of us found tiny inlets, grassy mounds and the edges of the lapping water to let the wind and waves drown out all of our previous concerns. Time bends awhile in this state. It’s difficult to hurry OR worry.
But Phil forged north along the shore to see the end of this tiny finger of sand. He came back, nonchalantly, to report that, our landlord had been correct; there were people, up ahead, sunbathing in the nude. Now, we wore our coats against the wind, hoods up, so we felt our thin skin in more ways than one about such an open idea.
I quickly told Hunter we might find people like this so he wouldn’t ask loud questions upon an encounter. Of course, he asked many loud questions before we approached. He’s seen plenty an eyeful in the swimming pool locker rooms as he, as many other young boys, is required to go with me to change and shower in the open showers before going into the pool.
We tried to act natural and unconcerned as we passed sunning folks. Hunter did a great job holding his curiosity. Our determination to continue, instead of immediately turn back, was the avocet. However much we tried, scanning the horizons (trying to only see nature and not natura’l) with our binoculars for flocks of avocet, all we saw were ducks, seagulls and rooks.
A man and his wife, armed with beach going bags, umbrellas, picnic and a striped, four-post canvas screen stood together as the man pounded the posts into the sand to form a three-sided screen. They were of retirement age, wearing jeans, tennis shoes and wind jackets. I asked the man if he spoke English. Because he did, I asked if he knew where we could find the avocet. He pointed south of where we were headed, quite a ways. He seemed eager to divert our journey north along the shore.
Phil wanted to continue going north to see the end of the spit. When I realized this peaceful sort of humanity continued going about walking, staking and sunning ahead, I urged Phil to turn around so we could pursue these birds in earnest. By the time we passed the colorful three-sided screen, the man and woman had stashed their clothes and lie side-by-side in the sun. Phil was most ready to leave, by then.
We were in this awkward state as we walked back to the car. We approached one of the bridges across the marsh, trying varied ways to walk across the wide, muddy spots. Hunter had already “bathed” his shoes in the sea, covered the wet spots (of his new shoes) with sand and now took his chance across a nice, dark, muddy spot instead of heeding his father’s “follow me.”
He was suddenly squealing and crying, most annoyingly. We turned our attention toward him even as we picked our way across the marsh in time to see that he’d lost a shoe in the mud. Of course, we all thought he over-reacted, urging him to come out of the mud. As he tried to take another step, another shoe was sucked off of his other foot. By this time, Phil had loped over to help his son out, but Hunter sat down (fortunately his rain coat covered his rear), just as he put his hand into his daddy’s.
We could see that Phil was up to his ankles in shoe-sucking mud as he pulled Hunter hard out of the muck and retrieved the shoes. Hunter will probably never see a mud puddle the same way. While I pulled Hunter’s socks off so he could walk barefoot (“But, Mom! There’s mud between my toes, even!”), Phil said, “I’m going to wash off in the sea.”
All three of us adults felt it our solemn duty to help Hunter see the error of his ways, to accept the responsibility of disobeying his dad and the consequences of getting muddy. He met all with great weeping and wailing: “I don’t like having this consequence!” Passersby gave us wide berth.
Back at our car with a child definitely not properly clothed for a birthday party, we drove to the other marsh. Along this short stretch of road, there were several parking lots. I couldn’t decide which to use, since I wanted to be as near as possible to the bird site. The site I was driving into wasn’t close enough, so I put the car in reverse, announced, “I hope there are no cars behind me (but I couldn’t see any), and proceeded to plow backward into another car approaching the same parking lot. It was quite a blow.
Everyone in the car now looked at me. “That didn’t sound good,” I said bleakly, threw it in first and quickly parked so I could get out and work it out with the driver. He parked beside me, getting out as quickly as I had. The only thing we could see was a small scrape on the rubber part of his bumper. The back of the older Company Volvo we drive showed absolutely no damage, whatsoever.
I asked the man, “Do you want my phone number?” while I noticed his wife looking deeply disappointing and shaking her head.
“Never,” he said. “It’s okay,” though I could see his wife clearly disagreed.
We shook hands (because I didn’t know what else to do). Even the disapproving wife wanted to shake hands, though she wouldn’t look me in the eye. The man and I walked toward the back of our cars. He pointed to a gash in his back left bumper and said, “See? It is ruined already,” smiling a sad smile.
Grateful and amazed (and shaking), I thanked the man, asking once more if he were sure he didn’t want my number (where is Dad and his quick-fixing tools, anyway?), got back in the car, thanked the Lord for Volvo (something I never thought I'd do), then chose our parking spot more carefully. Hunter was still whining about not having socks to wear in the boots I should have let him wear the first time. He didn’t want to venture out to see the silly birds.
We were all shaken and not sure any of us really wanted to see any birds, now. But we tried and there were none to see.
It was time for a trip home, quick lunch and the trip to the birthday party. When the three of us adults were alone, we walked slowly along a boat harbor near the party spot, listening to the wind whistle through the ropes of the harbored sailboats and admiring the five mile bridge over the sun-dappled water. The wind picked up so that we decided to have tea and dessert. It was good to relax. It had been quite a day, already.
* My true interest in the word, “Avocet,” comes from a poetry journal by that name which accepted one of my poems a few years back.