I had been shooting diving pelicans, following one after another into the surf, trying for a dramatic series of shots for you all. It was low tide that morning--out so far that the flat, saturated bottom of the ocean was revealed. The sand along the shore was so wet that the water never seeped in, but floated on the surface like mirrored glass. The bulk of the beach beyond was higher and it blocked the west wind and the sun, after making a brief appearance through a break in the clouds, had been covered once again.
What all of this means is that there was suddenly the most perfect light I think I've ever seen. I had been watching groups of gulls and terns all morning, but they had been between me and the light--not the best positioning. But now I had unknowingly moved up past a couple of terns to the water's edge while watching the pelicans. I was actually thinking it was time to go when I turned around and saw this:
I cannot tell you how excited I was, to have this royal tern so close at hand, with the soft even light of a clouded morning falling across its feathers. The best part for me, however, was the reflection. He may as well have been standing on glass.
I watched captivated as he took each feather and ran it through his bright orange bill.
Just the day before I had read in the book "Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature" by Kathleen Dean Moore (an exceptional book, by the way) how she had watched, "carefully, so joyfully, as a magpie-jay ran each of its extravagant tail feathers through its black beak, one and then another." She had been watching the jay with her family, and they had been discussing how there are no blue birds--that the blue we see is really just how the light is refracted off the surface of a feather. Then she had this to say:
"We all in our own ways catch the light of the world and reflect it back, and this is what is bright and surprising about a person, this rainbow shimmer created from colorless structure. Maybe there is not meaning in the world itself--no sorrow. In fact, no good or bad, beginning or end. Maybe what there is, is the individual way each of us has of transforming the world, ways to refract it, to create of it something that shimmers from our spread wings. This is our work, creating these wings and giving them color."