The Lessons Of The Sanderling

by Dana Kester-McCabe

imageAs winter approaches, the shoreline can be cold and foreboding. But it ever remains a place to learn how to better live my life.

Recently during a walk along the Assateague shoreline I enjoyed watching the sanderling, who spends her days running merrily in and out of the reach of the ocean's crashing waves.

She seems to have no time to cry out or tremble at the awesome power of the sea. Neither self pity nor fearful hesitation holds her back. Her focus is on survival. Just inside the surf's tumult she finds her daily sustenance. She has learned how to face danger straight on and come away better for it.

In fact she makes the ocean a dangerous collaborator. As the waves rise up about to smash the shore again, she goes farther out to the buffet of bugs and crustaceans exposed by the receding water. Scurrying back and forth looks precarious but at the same time somehow effortless. No doubt this comes from a lot of practice.

You might think the sanderling would be smarter to use her gift of flight to hover above the waves swooping down to catch her prey; or to simply fly away until low tide and safer picking. But the sanderling knows that short cuts are not the answer. Keeping ones feet firmly on the ground and working hard is the way not just to survive but to thrive. A quick check of any birding book reveals that sanderlings are in fact a species that is flourishing. They can be found on just about any beach in the world.

And, the sanderling is rarely alone. Her friends are always close at hand. They nest and flock together looking out for one another and keeping each other company. Together they share a life laden with uncertainty and peril. Yet, their daily business seems to be a cheerful dance. I have no way to prove it is true; but to me, sanderlings look happy.

Joyful courage, hard work, and dedicated community; these are the lessons the sanderling seems to have mastered. The last one is probably the most important. We are never alone in our journey or struggles when we have fellow travelers. These are the lessons I keep learning over and over again. It may have taken a simple walk on the beach to be reminded of them, but they actually are right in front of me every day.