I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
Sea-Fever by John Masefield
“I guess we should call Mrs. Bulmer and tell her we’re sorry,” said Jackie, handing the binoculars to Anne.
Mel had finally gotten Jackie and Anne together for more than a few minutes. It was supposed to be a happy occasion. Swing over to the city centre to check on Penelope. Pick up ice cream and hit the beach. Show Jackie that Anne was not a threat to their friendship. Instead, they’d arrived to find an abandoned nest and three dead chicks. Penelope and her mate were nowhere to be seen. Mel didn’t understand. She’d been here only a few days ago and the whole family had seemed fine.
“What do you think happened to them?” asked Jackie.
“When we were studying nest mortality in South Africa, sometimes it was the heat that did them in. And it’s been hot this week, I’ll admit, but not that hot. Other times it’s predation, trampling, nest abandonment… Or maybe they ate too much plastic,” said Anne.
“I wish we could know for sure,” said Mel.
“We could have my dad or Bakul do an autopsy,” said Anne.
Mel shook her head. “I want you to help me bury them.”
She looked at both of her friends, daring them to laugh. But of course, this was Jackie and Anne, the only people she knew who wouldn’t scoff at digging a grave for baby birds. Without saying a word, Anne reached into her backpack and ripped open a new box of nitrile gloves. Mel took a pair and squeezed her hands inside.
“They’re for my laboratory,” Anne explained to Jackie who, after years of being friends with Mel, was only slightly baffled. “Do you have a box or something we could put them in?”
Barbara the store owner had faithfully left a set of traffic cones around the nest for the past few weeks. Mel stepped around them and squatted to examine the chicks. They were too small for their age, she noticed now, and she could have kicked herself for not noticing sooner. Luckily their deaths had been recent and their bodies were still intact. Still, Jackie went pale and offered to inform Barbara of the tragic turn of events when she noticed a fat brown ant crawling over one of the chicks.
They buried the nestlings out in Cleadon Hills, in the rustling grasses with the great, empty windmill watching over them. Nobody had thought to bring a spade. Eventually Jackie’s yoghurt spoon made a deep enough dent in the soil for a grave, and they laid the three souls down to rest.
“It really isn’t fair,” said Mel. “They didn’t even get to live a month.”
Anne sighed. “That’s just the way nature is sometimes. Cruel.”
“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt,” said Jackie.
Anne pursed her lips but made no response. Though she didn’t speak of her mother often, she was no stranger to grief.
Mel gathered handfuls of wild thyme and rockrose and pricked her hands picking gorse flowers, which she laid solemnly on the bare dirt. She sat there for a long time while the sun rotated through the sky.
Finally, Jackie got out her kazoo and played The Lord Is My Shepherd, which made them all laugh in spite of themselves.
“Well that was really sad,” she said. “Ice cream will make us feel better.”
It was nearing sunset now, and cool enough that Mel didn’t really want ice cream any more. But she wasn’t complaining with a chocolate truffle cone in her hand. They went to the beach as they’d originally planned to stroll along the tideline and look for shells. Anne stopped abruptly in her tracks, salted caramel ice cream dripping down her wrist.
“Mel, is that–” she pointed with her forehead, holding her arms awkwardly so she wouldn’t get ice cream on her shirt.
“I saw the red bracelet! It’s your bird for sure! Where are your binoculars!” Jackie shrieked.
There was a scramble of confusion as Mel tried to dig in her backpack for the binoculars with her one free hand and both Jackie and Anne tried to help her at the same time. Somehow Anne ended up sprawled in the sand and when Mel landed nose-to-nose with her, Anne’s gaze flickered to her lips and Mel said, “Aye, I know I got ice cream all over my mouth when I fell.” Jackie, fortunately, had kept her wits about her and caught the binoculars the second before they hit the ground. And she peered through the lenses and said, “What on earth is she doing?”
Jackie handed Mel the binoculars, and she saw her Penelope at the edge of the colony, awkwardly scraping her feet across the pebbly beach.
“I know what she’s doing,” Mel said. “I can’t believe it. She’s building a new nest.”
About the author: Ella Shively is a recent graduate of Northland College. She is now working as a water resource specialist at the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation in Ashland, Wisconsin, USA. You can find her online at https://www.instagram.com/shivelywrites/.
About this chapter's featured poet: John Masefield was a merchant seaman. In 1895, he deserted his ship in New York City and worked there in a carpet factory before returning to London to write poems describing his experience at sea. Masefield was appointed British poet laureate in 1930.