Monday, September 17, 2012

I Can Try

It made a difference to that one.
-Loren Eiseley

We are hosting visitors from Wisconsin, Illinois and California. So we took them to an island this weekend. While on the ferry ride out to Egmont Key, we passed an injured pelican tangled up in fishing line with a hook piercing one of it’s wings. The ferry captain got close enough for one of his assistants to scoop the helpless bird out. I think many of the passengers thought this was a typical day on the Florida sea. But I have lived here fifteen years and have only seen a distressed bird rescued once before and it was during a hurricane. We all were elated when they let the bird go and it immediately went after the fresh catch on the end of a fisherman’s line. Maybe no wiser from the experience, still hungry and happy to be mobile once again.

The rescue was inspiring enough that when my son spotted a dragon fly that couldn’t get off the ground on the beach, we carried it to a tree stump for a safer place to rest and recover. Not sure if we really could help it, but it was worth a shot.

Than on the way home, our ferry passed a tower where dozens of waterbirds perched. Between the seagulls and pelicans, there was a cormorant limply hanging by it’s neck in more tangled fishing line. The way it dangled in the wind, we all believed it was dead. It had to be. Still, it seemed cruel to let it stay there and rot even if it was passed the point of suffering.The ferry boat driver asked his assistant if she could use a stick to knock it down. She replied the same way she did with the pelican, “I can try.” The boat we were on was just big enough to make getting close to that metal tower a bit tricky. There was a real risk of damaging the boat and the tower, all for the dignity of a dead bird. When she did give the line a swift knock, down fell the bird. Instead of sinking, it caught air just before it hit the water and flew away. We watched it land a few hundred yards away, get it’s bearings and than dive under water for a swim. Amazing!

I know it was just a bird. But I felt like my heart took flight at that moment. 

Our experience reminded me of “The Star Thrower” story in Loren’s Eiseley’s 1969 book “The Unexpected Universe.” My aunt, who rescued horses all her life, told me the story when I was a young girl visiting her farm in Indiana. One of her ponies was renamed starfish after the story. She had rescued him from a carnival when he was too old to carry children on a circle ride anymore. My aunt died more than a decade ago. I haven’t thought about that story in years.

The story is about a little girl walking on a beach littered with thousands of starfish that had washed ashore. The little girl kept stopping to throw each one back. An old man told her with amusement that she was wasting her time. He pointed to the endless miles of shoreline and told her there was no way she could save them all. There is no way she could make a difference. The child threw another one back and replied "It made a difference to that one.".  The little girl’s perspective inspired the old man and others on the beach that day to help. Pretty soon, all the starfish were returned to the water.

If you google “starfish story”, the first site to pop up is not about Loren Eilsely’s original story. Author Brad Meltzer tops the search engine. He has written two books called Heroes for My Son and Heroes for My Daughter. Meltzer also created a website called Ordinary People Change the World. The site raises money for charity by selling inspirational t-shirts featuring childlike drawings of heroes like Amelia Earhart and Abe Lincoln. I particularly like the site's link where you can send a personalized Thank You Video to someone who is your hero. It took me 30 seconds to make someone’s day by clicking on it.

Everyone on that ferry boat this weekend was a hero. What our beach experience taught me is we all want to be part of something heroic. We all have the ability to help someone, to inspire others by simply saying “I can try.”

What will be your starfish today?


  1. Thank you Tracey for this beautiful post. I love the lessons in it for all of us:To not give up even though the situation may be difficult and at times overwhelming...each of us has a part to play and can help to make a difference. In gratitude to you.

  2. Hi Susanne. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. I enjoy being connected to others through this blog. You made my day by commenting.

  3. Tracey, Starfish!! What a beautiful post. Brings so many memories to when I brought an injured crow home from my riding lesson, brought a stray dog home from college in the winter that had been shot by BBs, orphaned baby bunnies she taught me to feed with an eye dropper, orphaned baby robin that she taught me to feed with canned dog food and I had to go find worms in the grass for...and how I had to let him go at the park by the pond...I brought him back home the first time since he flew back to me and she made me try again in a few weeks and he left because he was ready :)

    1. Your mom was an amazing person. It is funny how it takes years to recognize the significance of the lessons others share with you simply by being themselves. I have fond memories of your family and that farm. The swing at the bottom of the hill. Feeding your cow. Playing with your pet raccoon that liked to sit on the kitchen table (that seemed so weird to me). Running around with all the cousins in the dark catching fireflies.Your neighbor's turkeys, All of it. So glad she instilled that love of nature and all creatures in you. What wonderful memories.


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