We’ve all heard the saying, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” However, as I sat watching sea birds this summer, I began to wonder if instead of stressing the plenitude of fish, we shouldn’t be focusing more on the technique of the fisherman. For the purpose of this consideration, I will call upon the behavior of three birds I watched carefully from the shore.
The first bird is one most often associated with the sea shore: the gull. A bird of substantial size, he makes his presence known on the beach. Most often seen in the sky above lunching beach-goers, the gull has a loud, repetitive call and a persistence that is difficult to ignore. Interestingly enough, though, the sea gull is not spoken of by most people with deep admiration. Perhaps it is because he is a nag. Whether stalking from the sand or the sky, the gull is almost too eager for acknowledgment. Once the sympathetic beach beauty does offer a scrap of her lunch to the gull, he screams out loudly, announcing her generosity to every other lurking gull. Before she knows it, she is surrounded by scavengers, all looking for a piece of what she’s offered the one. And once the goodies are gone, so are the birds, leaving behind only their messy droppings. It’s no wonder they have the reputation that they do. Despite the fact they evolved with sharp beaks, impressive wingspans, and keen eyesight – all qualities that make them skilled fishermen – the gulls are perceived as a lazy menace. They are often shooed away from the beach with bellies empty, left to fly across the horizon unsatisfied.
The sandpiper on the other hand never makes direct contact with beach-goers in its hunt for food. Instead, it shows up as the tide begins to retreat and fishes joyfully at the water’s edge. When the ocean breaks on land, the sandpiper retreats quickly on tiny legs that are amusing to observe. And as the water retreats, he follows in the tide to take advantage of the baby clams that were once hidden by sand. Partnered with the sea in its quest for food, the sandpiper penetrates only the shallow, soft sand to dine on the once burrowed clams that are now within easy reach. While it is willing to get its feet wet in the quest for satisfaction, it’s never seen floating in the sea and certainly doesn’t take great risk. It is a shallow fisherman. And, while it seems satisfied with what it finds, the tiny sandpiper returns throughout the day to work terribly hard for tiny clams.
Finally, my favorite of the sea birds is the tern. Resembling a small gull, these birds appear in small flocks over the ocean, not far from the shore. Skilled aviators, they move in the wind like graceful dancers, eyeing crabs and small fish that swim just beneath the ocean’s surface. The tern navigates the wind like a kite, unaltered in its mission and not discouraged by a shift in direction. It is a brave and determined fisherman that navigates with agility. It floats on the breeze and scours the waters below for the perfect catch. It seems particular and patient; almost confident that its persistence will offer reward. Then, like a World War II divebomber, the tern plunges into the sea bravely and swiftly, adding strategy to its dance. It is not afraid to penetrate the surface, knowing that the substance often found below the superficial current will be worth the time and risk invested. More often than not, the term reemerges into the sky with a beak full of fish. Then it soars to greater heights and ventures off to (I’m assuming) a nest to enjoy its catch.
Whle it may be true that “there are plenty of fish in the sea,” I have also learned from the sea birds that fishing strategy plays an important role in securing a “catch.” We can be like the gull who is persistent and noisy, satisfied with scraps of whatever is offered to us and never willing to take real risk . We could also be like sandpipers who work very hard for very little reward. But it is the tern, I think, that offers the greatest lessons for us about netting a catch worth holding. If we can be patient in our search, learn to be resilient in our effort, and be brave enough to penetrate the surface, I think the fish we end up with will be worth all our effort in the end.