Walking on the beach — right now, people are engaged in this timeless activity wherever surf, sand and human feet coexist. In New Guinea and Norway. Turks and Caicos and Kodiak Island. California and Corsica. New Zealand and Belize. And, in my case, on a perfectly nice, totally empty, rather ?underappreciated-looking strip of golden? sand fringed with miles of lightly crashing surf in a not-so-faraway place that seems strangely exotic on this balmy afternoon. Imaginary, even.
There’s a first for everything — including discovering the beauty of the not-so-faraway Alabama Gulf Coast. Just don’t tell anyone where you heard about it, because we promised to keep it a secret.
There’s no one around but me and a guy up ahead dozing in a beach chair. There’s nothing to do but blissfully put one sandy foot in front of the other. Listen to the waves. Feel the sun. Gaze off at the glimmering Gulf of Mexico, adorned with billowy clouds and a statuesque fleet of offshore natural-gas drilling platforms poking out of the horizon like a Texas aqua-art exhibit. But, wait, this isn’t Texas. What coast am I on, again?
Then, as if to remind me, a bird suddenly attacks.
It comes soaring toward me from out of nowhere, like a young gull who’s seen too many Hitchcock movies. But this is no seagull. This is a proud Alabaman royal tern in full F-16 mode with me in its crosshairs for some reason.
Now I’m no longer walking on the beach. I’m jogging. Then running. Then sprinting. Pursued by a tiny winged assailant that, though it hasn’t actually laid a talon or a beak on me (yet), is clearly communicating that this little patch of this long beach ain’t big enough for the two of us. Suddenly he swerves off, calling a shrill little warning to me as he goes.
Now I’m standing on the beach, sweaty and panting, next to the guy in the beach chair, who is clearly amused.
“That was one angry bird,” he chirps, having enjoyed the whole show.
The guy’s name is Kirk. He’s from Northern Louisiana. He’s been coming to this serene thread of sand on the western edge of Alabama’s Gulf Coast, located between Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, for years. This is the first solo seabird blitz he’s ever witnessed on the otherwise very hospitable Alabama coast.
“I don’t know,” he reasons. “Maybe you disturbed him and his girlfriend. The birds are used to a lot of privacy around here.”