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Why do the plovers fly away? - Chapter 23

Updated: Mar 14, 2022

Early in the day it was whispered that we should sail in a boat,

only thou and I, and never a soul in the world would know of this our

pilgrimage to no country and to no end.

In that shoreless ocean,

at thy silently listening smile my songs would swell in melodies,

free as waves, free from all bondage of words.

Is the time not come yet?

Are there works still to do?

Lo, the evening has come down upon the shore

and in the fading light the seabirds come flying to their nests.

Who knows when the chains will be off,

and the boat, like the last glimmer of sunset,

vanish into the night?

Sail Away by Rabindranath Tagore


Classes were over at last. At the end of the last day, Mel allowed herself to sit down under the ancient oak tree outside the school and savor a moment of triumph. No more bungled presentations in front of the class. No more Mrs. Applegate writing, “second-person narrative in a formal essay is something I shall not put up with!” in the margins of her papers. No more doing all the work in the biology lab whilst her partner texted his girlfriend under the table. No more of that indeed. At least, not until Uni.

She allowed herself this brief respite. And then the eye of the storm was past and she was even busier than before. It seemed that every waking moment was devoted to working, studying for exams, or assisting with the plover study. She calculated the cost of student housing and took on extra hours at Schooner or Later. She read Romeo and Juliet, again. Her hands cracked and bled from washing dishes and dark circles blossomed under her eyes. Even her mother, who often said that young people needed to work harder, noticed her daughter’s change in condition.

“You’re working too hard,” said Mam, sleep-deprived herself thanks to George’s new habit of waking up at six in the morning and yelling for sweets. “You need to take care of yourself, pet.”

But Mel had no intentions of slowing down. Not now, not ever. The end of classes had filled her with a mad, zealous ambition, and she didn’t know if she even could slow down. She marched across town to her internship and flung the door of the research office open like the protagonist of a Broadway musical. John was standing behind the door, fixing a wall hanging, and she nearly bowled him over. Anne was off visiting the university in Newcastle with her mystery microbe and Ben and Bakul were on a phone call with some god-like distributor of research grants. Mel was jittery and unfocused when John sat her in front of a laptop for an afternoon of data entry. He must have tired of her constant foot tapping, because he finally said, “Let’s go for a walk and have a look at the birds, shall we?”

Together they set off along the foggy beach, listening companionably to waves they couldn’t see. The plovers darted into the fog and were pushed back again by invisible waves. Mel laughed.

“Why do they always run from the sea like that?” she asked.

“Didn’t you know? Plovers can’t swim.”


“Well, I’ve never seen one swim. I guess I don’t know for sure. They’re certainly not habitual swimmers.”

I guess I don’t know for sure. That seemed like a major admittance for a man who had once assumed she was stoned on a public beach at six in the morning.

“I guess I like to imagine the plovers and I are kindred spirits. We both get our life from

the sea and we’re both afraid of it,” John went on.

“You’re afraid of the ocean?”

John barely acknowledged her with a nod. “Look.”

He pointed toward Penelope’s nest. Penelope and her mate were switching places, allowing Mel the briefest glimpse of three nearly invisible eggs. How John had spotted them from this distance without binoculars was beyond her.

John shook his head, chuckling softly. “And so it begins again.”

Read on:

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

About this chapter's featured poet: Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 7 August 1941) was an Indian poet, writer, playwright, composer, philosopher, social reformer and painter. He reshaped Bengali literature and music as well as Indian art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He became in 1913 the first non-European and the first lyricist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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