I reach Rockaway Beach at first light.
Even though I’ve been coming down here every year for the past two years, seeing the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean never gets old. The way the sky slowly turns golden and gradually tinges the water flaxen is like watching a master painter at work. I have no words.
I only wish that you were here to witness it with me.
Does it surprise you how much I’ve been thinking about you? You should know me by now. As soon as the weather turned, I unleashed all 15 inches of wingspan and flew out. I tore through time zones so fast that it's a miracle how I managed the long flight here without causing an international incident.
This early, there is hardly anyone around. Those who are here, however, well, we give each other a wide berth. The beach is big enough for each of us to lay claim to our own piece of land.
An errant wind blows and I shiver slightly from the cold. Spring should have already started, but winter has yet to release its hold. I get it. We’re both here on borrowed time. It's why we have such a propensity to arrive early and leave late. Faced with such a fate, our greediness knows no bounds.
You, however, are the exact opposite. You’re never in a rush, and you never stay longer than you have to. I admit that your callousness stings at times, but I can’t hold it against you either. I like to think that our natures both serve some purpose. That we cannot both be early, and that we cannot both be late.
But when did we assign each other those roles, I wonder.
Life is short, so says a slogan I once read on a man’s t-shirt. No one knows this better than we do. Our son, he had a good life, didn’t he? And our daughter, too. But this is a dangerous world, and our clock is always ticking. Perhaps it’s why I’ve been trying to arrive earlier and earlier in the last two years.
Because I've been trying to outrun the past. Or because I'm trying to make up for lost time. Because both.
Life is short.
The man's shirt said nothing else, and the more I thought about it, the more confused I became. It began to sound less like a statement and more like a riddle that I needed to solve.
So far, I haven't had much luck cracking that code.
Seeing those three words though—it unlocked something in me. That was when my little brain started filling up with inexplicable thoughts. And feelings! Let us not forget feelings! I never used to have a lot of both, but now, I could feel myself questioning my very nature every step of the way.
I gave our son and our daughter names by the way. It’s fine if you don’t use them, but I thought that Henry and Mandy sounded nice.
Do you know that it’s possible to hitch a ride on the NYC Ferry? I’m sure you’ve seen it before. It’s the thing on the water that looks like a strange white and blue whale, but it’s not something to be afraid of. If you know where to stand, you can avoid the crowds.
I wasn’t the only one who had the idea. I spotted a few early birds on it, too, and before you ask, no, I didn’t hop over to introduce myself. I have enough friends of the same feather.
I always get the sense that you want me to socialize more though you’ve never really voiced it out loud. Quite frankly, the only time I ever felt the need to approach somebody new was when I first met you. It was here on this beach, too.
Of all the beaches in all the cities in all the world, you waddled into mine.
I must confess that I stole that line from somebody else, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that from the moment our beaks met, I knew you were it for me.
For a seven-inch ball of fluff, my feelings can come on a little too strong, but they’re not entirely one-sided, are they? In your beady little eyes, I sense some level of intelligent emotion.
Besides, actions speak louder than words. The Atlantic flyway we take spans from Greenland and Nova Scotia, along the eastern coast in North America to the tropics of the Caribbean. Every year, you can choose to land anywhere else, and yet you always choose to return here, to Rockaway Beach, to me.
You can’t say that doesn’t mean anything.
The sun is shining brightly down on the beach now. I can hear the noise pick up from all around. Stalls are opening. People are probably making their way to the boardwalk. Soon, the sands will be caked with large footprints.
But not here. This section is a protected area. Best of all, there are no dogs allowed. I’ve found a spot that I think you’ll like. A nice bit of sand where there are plenty of insects for us to snack on and where we can comfortably nest and hatch our children.
Shall we give them names?
Sometimes, this whole thing feels like a numbers game. I admit that there's a bit of pressure on my end to make sure that we close the gap—in that sense, nature has gotten its claws into us—but in chasing after that dream, have we lost sight of what's truly important?
I'm full of questions and no answers.
Still, I can't wait to see you again. Maybe you’ll arrive tomorrow. Maybe you won’t arrive until the middle of spring. Maybe you won't even make it this year. I won’t really know before the moment comes.
Until then, I’ll be here waiting, watching the sun rise every day for the both of us.
Author's Note: The birds in the story are called piping plovers. They're considered endangered in certain parts of the US and can be spotted spending their spring and summers in the beaches of New York City.