The Boy, The Old Man, and The Birds

The boy was restless whenever his parents joined other adults at the yacht club bar for afternoon cocktails. But he was fortunate that they did not insist he stay near. By August he had discovered many things to do. Crabbing with a pole net along the lower dock; fishing for small bluefish, “snappers,” off the end; standing on the beach whacking small rocks into the water with a stick. If the tide was low, he could guide his small row boat between the pilings below the main dock while everyone else walked above. Or he might walk out to the point just past the end of the yacht club buildings to the empty land where the birds nested.

         The yacht club had been built on a small island connected to the main body of land by a narrow causeway. Off to the right of the causeway at the tip of the island was what appeared to be a barren windswept peninsula. Originally a tidal marsh, the area had been filled in and raised when the harbor was dredged to allow docks to be built for fishing boats and yachts. Left untouched for years, patches of beach grass had gradually spread across the deposited sand. Surrounded by water on three sides, it was an ideal place for small seabirds and terns to nest and raise their young.

         The boy liked to walk out along the narrow beach toward the point. Close to the club there were no birds, but as he walked, always staying close to the water, he began to hear them. Occasionally one would fly out over the water, circle back and disappear on the point. The level of the land was just high enough that from the beach the boy could not see beyond the low dunes that had formed to surround the point.

         One day as he approached closer than he had before, the terns became agitated. Some took flight, sounding out short cries, warnings, he thought. He wondered what would happen if he got closer?

         He walked farther out, and then left the edge of the water to creep up on the low dune. By then many of the terns were in the air. A few steps more, almost to the top. Their warning calls turned into screams. Suddenly one tern dove down at the boy buzzing by just a foot or two over his head. And then another, and another. The boy ducked his head, but the birds were now dive-bombing him. Their shrieking cries pierced his ears. Air swirled around his hair as their wings swooped inches from his head.

         Terrified, he retreated back to the water’s edge, and then along the beach to the club. The birds settled and were quiet. Perhaps it was better to go fishing, maybe catch some snappers.

        

         The boy became a man, and the man grew old. And although they no longer nested on the point near the yacht club, the old man often thought about the birds.  

         A wealthy man eventually bought the land and covered the entire property with a sprawling landscaped gated compound. There was a spacious main house, guest cottage, Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis court, and a multi-car garage. Surrounded by dense vegetation, the estate was not visible from the road.

         On the beach about where the boy would first hear the birds, the owner erected a dock to moor a bright red speed boat. He put up fences that stretched from the high ground to the tide line to prevent local people from strolling along the beach as they had done for decades. Summer mornings he drove a vintage Italian roadster five miles out to the lighthouse and then back.

         The old man often saw the car as it sped by him on his morning walk. The sound of the fine-tuned twelve-cylinder engine was loud and then faded as the car disappeared down the road. But the old man did not hear this. He was listening to the birds.