20 Nov 2015


Rising early, the day looked perfect for a quick swim. Minutes later I was on the beach, balmy breeze, golden sand, and a rather wild sea. The sea is my place of sanctuary where I let go of all cares and woes as the waves cradle and buffet me. The shimmering turquoise waters, the energy of the waves, and the connection and “lostness” in the beauty of nature all conspire to transport me. I love it.

Today was perfect, when suddenly it became even more so. A huge shag flew low over the water, landing with a splash and quickly diving for some spotted morsel. I watched him as he navigated the waves, ducking and diving for his supper. Sighting a shag always fills me with joy. There is not much logic here, but I will attempt to explain.

When Justin died the shag became my symbol for him. There is an odd comfort when we replace our lost one with something else, often a bird, but also rainbows, dragonflies, butterflies, dolphins and so on – all gentle reminders of our love.

Why a shag for Justin? Not sure really, but my love of the ocean was an influence, and I saw him too as the proverbial shag on the rock – the bird who dives for fish but whose wings are not waterproof. The shag must sit on the rock and dry his wings before he can fly again. You could say he’s not perfectly designed for the task. Somehow this was my Justin, not quite a fit with life.

And so to see a shag, bobbing in the water, feeding, then flying off towards the horizon, is a happy sight, reminding me of Justin and my love.

There is a curious twist to this morning’s sighting. Just as I was leaving the beach, the shag washed up onto the sand – an unusual happening. He needed to dry his wings, and normally he would land on a rock, solitary and safe.

Facing into the breeze, he began shaking his head and furiously flapping his wings. He seemed oblivious to the people gathering to watch as he continued for some minutes. Suddenly scared, he took off, but too soon – he fell back into the water. Next moment he returned to the beach to begin again. He had to dry his wings. The same shaking and flapping, but this time a dog intervened to shoo him off. Again, too soon, wet again, and a soggy return to the beach. I couldn’t leave. I was transfixed willing him to be able to fly again. A third time, too soon, wet, return … and then a fourth.

I couldn’t help make the comparison. For years I willed Justin to fly, but he wasn’t able. When I left the beach this morning, the shag was still on the sand, shaking and flapping. I don’t know if he flew.