Shore Birds

By. Brent Bakeman

I do it because it clears my head, changes my mood. In hard times it’s the only thing.

I like the sand, I like the beach, I like the little shore birds that scurry around in front of me like their quail cousins do, I am that car that they are in front of on that country road. It is always beautiful. I’ve had hours down there with the bluffs on one side and the surf on the other; sunny, warm and not a soul around except for me sweating and the birds conducting the business of survival; a place I’m just visiting. The surf splashes against and around mossy rocks that dot the clean sand. Three spots on my route require me to wade when the tide is high, but I stopped wearing shoes down there years ago anyway. A little under six-miles, I call it my soul-run. The only thing that my natural father and I had in common, the run. He used to have a soul- run too that like mine was more of an escape.

I was seven years old when my folks divorced. For a while we all still lived in the same town; my father in an apartment, my busy mother and I in the house he left. My visits with the old man often brought me to the sandy-dunes of Moss Landing where my father, a former marathoner, did his Soul-Run. I walked that sand with him. I felt the solace he got from this empty sandscape and the neighboring ocean. We walked by the water and he told me how far we were from the divorce that had shaken any family unity out of me. The beach always kept us from that apartment he lived in that my mother would never see. No one was ever around; the beach itself was littered with plastic crap and beer cans. But I knew that my father could only be alone when he felt that happy. In the end, spouses, children nor profession or religion mattered to him like he and the run. The surf and the dunes absorbed anything that was abrasive to his conscience. Through a child’s eyes I understood that he was happy on his run, I never knew how much it really meant to him. At the time I appreciated everything about my father, time and absence eventually took that away.

He rented that apartment for maybe six months before his career took him away. Not long, less than a year later he remarried a woman with three daughters. I was flown out to Idaho to visit. I was a stranger in a strange family that included my father as the head. But he wasn’t really in charge, and the visit was cut short when his new wife decided she couldn’t get along with me. It would baffle me no more than a couple of years later that I had actually cried when my father put me on the plane to come home.

The sand is warm, the ocean cold, I stay where they meet. The deep prints in that wet sand behind me are periodically washed out by the tide, whenever I look back and notice.

My mother remarried a great man, who became my stepfather, but never my father, not by his fault but because it is that hard to replace such things. By now my old man is done with the first redo and has married the second. He was now working in Germany where he did quite well, professionally speaking. I’m in High school and dad’s cards come around Christmas; I am occasionally late, by mid-January I might get something in the mail to him. We don’t talk much, he in Europe and me growing up. By now it was something I felt that we should do, like an obligation, I had other things than keeping in touch with this man I used to know.

My Grandfather never left, even when my father did. My grandfather became the male figure of my upbringing. He taught me fishing, planting, how to shoot; he taught me what had worked for him. I once asked him about how to deal with an asshole at school; he told me, and it worked. He was the only person that I had for this. My grandfather was perhaps disgusted, though never publicly, by the absence of his only son, he would never admit it, but he took it upon himself to guide his grandson in the place of my father. With him I learned the traditional male roles that he felt his grandson, or son, should know. It didn’t take long until I saw through my grandfathers’ loyal, rosy image of his son that was my disappearing father. Though I never would have spoken of this to him, I knew that my grandfather had taken the place, as much as he could, of the man that he would never admit had let me down.

Some days the run is harder than others; some days I stop and rest half way through. I just sweat and breathe as the shore birds go back to their joust with the tide.

College took me away and I had been finished with that for a couple years and joined the working world when my aunt called and said that my grandfather would probably go tonight.

I borrowed my buddy’s fast car and made the four-hour trip in two and a half. My father was there amongst some of my family and the sympathetic but hardened nurses who had done this before. I had about twenty minutes where it was just me and my grandfather; he dying, me in debt, me talking, and he dying. At two-something he left; my aunt and grandmother were really letting loose; I had resigned myself. I remember the faces of those nurses, watching me leave. They were used to death, and now they saw my grandfather’s. The man that taught me idealism was leaving me to my own devices.

My father made some attempt to talk to me, I don’t even think I looked at him; at this point I saw him every number of years and he was on wife number four. The Christmas cards had long since stopped. I walked out of those sterile, dark but fluorescent hallways convinced that in the absence of my grandfather I would never see my father again, which I was okay with. Beyond that I now saw the disintegration of that family of my boyhood. That once cohesive family would probably never be known by the possibility of my future children. And again I think I was okay with that too. I just wanted back on that freeway. I wanted to go back to the life I had created and could only screw-up for myself, affecting no one else. My grandfather once told me that you have two chances for family, the one you are born into and the one that you create. When I left that hospital I felt that I had the one left.

The tide keeps flowing and I keep staggering through the sand, the birds are there and will be long after my grandchildren forget the things I told them about my grandfather. I dodge the rocks and feel the sun on my shoulders. The birds just respond to the ebb and flow, always adjusting to the tidal restraints without thought of the pattern tomorrow.

Brent Bakeman is a free-lance writer based in Seattle, WA. His Travel work can be seen in print in publications such as the The Cascade Times, with most of the fiction on the web. is coming soon.