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Snow, Kids, and Gulls on the Beach

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Becalmed in Virginia Beach, happily so in a fifth-floor oceanview suite. They treated me right. The Virginia Beach Wildlife Festival organizers were so solicitous, so concerned for my welfare…but I told them that stranded without a car in a beach hotel in winter for a few days is actually my idea of fab. I could walk to restaurants; I could run on the boardwalk; I could work in my room and I could watch the waves and the birds and dolphins. Besides, Katie Whanger, the festival organizer with the mostest, had given me a bottle of Williamsburg-grown red wine. Life was good.

The ocean was like a dry-erase board. Someone was always writing something new there. I could hardly look away. The water was usually some shade of pastel or pale, and any perturbation, such as a fin breaking the surface or a merganser floating, appeared as a dark mark on the pale ground. I set up my scope and panned constantly.

One morning, nine bottlenose dolphins fished back and forth across my field of view for most of an hour. I trained the scope on them, becoming accustomed to their pace and rhythm and anticipating where they’d surface again. They were swimming in synchrony. When seven surfaced to blow at once, it was a thrill to have them in the scope, to see their kind, tired eyes and fixed smiles. What a miraculous thing, to see dolphins in a freezing sea. I gave up trying to photograph them and just abandoned myself to the watching.

Dolphin and calf roll
through sun's path, curved fins cogteeth
pulling my heart under

The weather deteriorated. It snowed. For the first time in my life I saw snow falling on a beach. I was mesmerized by the sand turning white and the white flakes falling against the leaden sea. Virginia Beach, having now snow removal equipment, not even salt and sand in most areas, shut down. The festival, being a city function, shut down with it. My keynote Friday night was moved to Sunday afternoon. Field trips for Saturday morning were canceled. And, thanks to the icy road, the city wouldn’t allow the festival to use their school buses to get people to Saturday afternoon events, so everyone had to caravan in their own cars. These things happen. You can imagine. I felt keenly for the festival organizers. At one point 175 people had pre-registered for my talk. It was Katie’s job to contact all of them via email and phone and tell them the talk had been rescheduled. I was very thankful that I’d made a mistake and scheduled a Monday flight home, not one on Sunday. Sometimes things happen for a reason. In scheduling my flights, I had just assumed, based on all the other festivals I’d worked, that there would be something going on on Sunday. Turns out it was to be my keynote!

The little voice, speaking. Me, listening, not even knowing it would save the day.

Saturday morning dawned brilliant and draped in snow. I felt exalted and humbled to be at the beach in the snow. Forget the field trips, the reshuffling--I was on my knees.  That's not white sand--that's snow!

There was a large Christian youth group, or perhaps a convocation of them, staying in the hotel Friday night. I was worried that they'd have to scrub their trip, but in they came shortly before the snow started. They were exuberant and boisterous but good, and I was thankful that they went to bed at a decent hour. Well, some of them were up most of the night, playing on the beach in the snow. In the dark. Because it snowed at the beach, and they really got how cool that was. The next dawn, there they were, probably having been up all night playing in the snow. 

I automatically like people who go outside in freezing cold just to experience the beach in the snow.

She takes a photo of a gull with her phone.

Morning's tracks told the tale. Those kids were like a bunch of sanderlings. 
I found them feeding the ring-billed gulls at daybreak. So cute.

As the light grew, I had an amazing photo op thanks to the kids and their popcorn. Indigo ocean, snowy beach, hovering gulls.

The tail pattern on this 10-month-old ringbill enchanted me. That's just a guess--but if it was born in April it would be less than a year old.

I think this is my favorite shot of the bunch, though. Three angels in the snow.

Many people take ring-billed gulls for granted. But I saw the birds making a connection with the kids, and I loved them for that. They drew them closer to nature, brought them out on the beach. They are also beautiful birds.

Fun at the beach, in the snow. Life's an adventure--you just have to roll with what it serves up.


I love everything about this post. Snow on Sand! Love of those who would go out and be in it! The kismet of getting your plane reservations just right. Huzzah!

Posted by KH Macomber February 3, 2013 at 5:28 AM

Didn't you see plenty of snow beaches during your time in CT? We love to go out there with our dog (considerably hairier than a Boston) and walk. The dog makes it harder to look at birds at the same time, but there are often Mergansers and always Canada geese. This time of year we can get some huge flocks of Brant, just biding their time until they can go farther north.

Posted by Barbara Manicatide February 3, 2013 at 6:08 AM

That was supposed to be "snowy" beaches. Oops.

Posted by Barbara Manicatide February 3, 2013 at 6:09 AM

Good golly. I have seen a beach in every mood from hurricane to mirror calm, but never a snow covered beach.
I yield to the lady from Ohio.

Love the sanderling / kid image.

Barbara, I spent so much time on the beaches all summer patrolling my piping plover and tern colonies that I didn't go there much in winter, sorry to say. My car wasn't the best in snow and there were many hills between me and the beach. I wish I had!
Floridacracker, I didn't know you'd spent time in Savannah! And at Fort Pulaski! Thought I spotted some crackertracks in the mudflat...Come to think of it I'm not done with Savannah...I'll go back to town in subsequent posts. I'm all bungled up just trying to share the highlights of the trip.

That's right - I had forgotten where you were living. It was a bit of a drive. I don't know how you did it all the time in the Summer. Ah, youth.

Posted by Barb again February 3, 2013 at 12:23 PM

i love every thing this very interesting post.
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Many years ago my first husband and I took a vacation to Corpus Christi in December, when a break to a beach down South, away from Frozen Wisconsin would be welcome. A winter storm chased us all the way down there, and arrived just after we did. It snowed for the first time in Corpus Christi for 70 years. I'm attaching a link to a picture I took, of a child making a snow castle, instead of a sand castle. Fortunately, being Texas, the sun did come back and warm everything up. However, snow on the beach . . . very unique!

Glad you had a good time in VA Beach despite the weather and the confusion it temporarily caused. I really enjoyed meeting you. I'm not sure if I said it earlier or not, but your keynote was awesome!

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