The white pelicans came to our river in November. The first time I saw them, they were faraway and looked like a field of white flowers floating on the silver water. My brother, Danny, and I were taking our usual shortcut along the river to school. “Laura,” he whispered, “look at the river!”
In awe, we climbed to our secret hiding place by the riverbank and watched the field of drifting white.
“Pelicans!” we said together.
We had never seen so many pelicans. Danny counted seventy-two, and I counted seventy-five.
The big white birds looked as if they were dancing to music. All together they turned. All together they circled and dipped their orange-yellow bills into the water. All together they brought them out again.
I wanted to stay with the pelicans all day, but I finally tore myself away. I kept telling myself that I could see them after school.
But they weren’t there after school. Danny and I looked up and down the river, and all we saw was a lone bittern standing on a rock. With its head and sharp bill hunched into its ruffled brown feathers, the bittern looked as sad as we were.
Our spirits brightened the next morning. As we walked along our shortcut to school, the sun flooded over the hillside and gleamed on white feathers. The pelicans were back, and they were dancing.
The day after that was Thanksgiving. After breakfast, Dad patted his stomach and said, “Before we dig into that big meal this afternoon, why don’t we do something special?”
Danny and I looked at each other. “The pelicans!” we exclaimed.
We had never taken Mom and Dad to our secret hiding place in the thicket by the river. It was usually reserved for watching the cottontail rabbits that grazed nearby. But we decided to make an exception since today was Thanksgiving and Mom and Dad had never seen the pelicans.
We all snuggled into the thicket. Peeking out one side, we saw seven little brown rabbits. Two of them hopped away, waving their white cotton-ball tails behind them. The other five stayed and stared at us with their big brown eyes.
Peeking out the other side of the thicket, we saw the white pelicans floating on the still river. Mom counted sixty-four. I counted seventy-three, and Danny seventy-five. Dad counted eighty-two. So who knows how many pelicans there were.
In perfect rhythm, the big birds were dipping their yellow bills into the water.
“Do you know what they’re doing?” Dad asked.
Danny and I shook our heads.
“They’re fishing. The water is low at this time of year, and they can easily scoop the fish into those pouches under their bills.”
For a long time we watched the pelicans fish and the cottontails graze. Not faraway I could hear the rush of cars on the busy freeway. I knew that the city was nearby, too, but here in our secret thicket we were in a beautiful world all our own.
Suddenly wings whirred over the water. In a white wave, the pelicans took off. I could see big webbed feet that matched orange yellow bills. I could see black patches on the undersides of their long white wings. Even in the air, the pelicans looked as if they were dancing. The big white birds arced and curved as one. We watched until they were only white dots in the blue sky.
As Dad was saying the prayer over Thanksgiving dinner, I was silently adding my thanks to Heavenly Father for the pelicans. Then suddenly I heard Dad say, “We especially want to thank Thee for Laura and Danny’s secret thicket and the chance to see the beautiful pelicans and the cottontail rabbits.”
When Dad finished, he smiled at me. I didn’t know if the pelicans would be back the next day or not until the next November—or maybe never. But I was grateful to Heavenly Father for letting us see them from the thicket with Mom and Dad on Thanksgiving Day.