Classes Now Forming
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
At a certain age, a man puts on weight rather easily, even once skinny hyper-metabolized types like me. For us, it’s even worse, because with age most of the body remains thin while the belly looks distended. Letting nature have its way, with a mid-section hanging from an otherwise slender frame, aging ectomorphs begin, in fact, to resemble pelicans. More so if one sports the “forward head posture” my chiropractor says I should have him correct. All I need to flesh out this similarity to the pelican is a long beak and a 10-foot wing span.
For pelicans, with their natural grace and aerodynamic lines, the look suits them, especially in flight. For geezers in the making, let’s just say we won’t be booking any photo shoots for GQ in the near future.
I blame it on France (where I recently rediscovered the joy of over-indulgence) and inadequate breast feeding in my early years —the later ones, too, but let’s not go there. Back home in Montana, I kept at it, pigging out, as it were, and enjoying it immensely. A sagging belly was the inevitable consequence.
Manifesting my inner pelican nature in this fashion, however, was not something I could live with. Skinny guys shouldn’t be skinny and fat at the same time; it’s the worst of both worlds. So, I did something about it. I stopped eating.
I don’t mean I cut back or went on a diet. I stopped eating—taking only liquids. After a week or so I ate some melon, then a light salad every third day or so. During peak stress loads, like the one I’m experiencing now just talking about this, I soft-boiled an egg.
A peculiar thing happens when the belly gauge continually points to empty. It takes a few days, but a person gets sensitive, at first to noise, smells and visual stimuli like light; but then in the nervous system and psychically, as if vision questing.
The first days of summer had arrived and it was a good time to feel that way—with the aromas of fresh cut grass, clover, and the smell the world gives off when hot sun bakes rain-soaked hills. Briefly, here in Montana, everything comes up moist and fertile. The earth smells like a jungle, air like ripe fruit, flowing water like it’s waiting to be imbibed. You sense what dogs sense as they flare their nostrils—their olfactory senses being similarly developed, say, to our ability to understand speech. And in those first days of summer, early sunlight casts hues like golden omnipresence, replete with import, as it spills across hills and a sleepy town, filling each hollow with amber fluid.
Yeah, I was diggin’ it, lots of impressions arriving at the doorstep of awareness, and those offering the sensation of being in relationship to elemental existence, not just that of an observer. I had a sense of the vibratory frequency of things expressed in color, sound and fragrance as they floated across landscapes and through the prism of my mind.
I glanced at my belly too. Maybe it was receding, I don’t know, but in my euphoria I didn’t care.
I had been thinking about swans a lot then. They nest near Sacajawea Park, flying sorties in great circles above the lagoon and river where I once lived, although I had not seen them for a while. When I lived there, near their nests, I would see them floating in pairs on the water, sometimes with a signet, or lifting their lumbering frames off the glassy surface to fly their ritualistic circles above—in pairs, or as three.
On the Internet, I read what I could about them, over soft boiled eggs. I learned the difference between trumpeter and tundra swans, their markings, even the different honking sounds they make, which a website conveys audibly (if that isn’t cool). I also learned about the rarity of trumpeters, how their numbers have dwindled to a tiny remnant of their former presence which once spanned the continent, and that Yellowstone is one of few places where they thrive. Needless to say, swans were on my mind.
That afternoon, I took a bike ride. It was a golden day, so I took off aimlessly, riding here and there. I found myself peddling the path atop the levee in Sacajawea Park as it passes under cottonwoods rising from the river bank. A canopy of branches covers the path there, so you can hardly see the sky, and as I was peddling a lone trumpeter flew out of nowhere, swooping to the treetops and seemingly through them, right over my head. He honked at me a few times, just as he flew above me, letting me know we were in tune.
It was a Tom Brown moment, the uncanny merging of thought and subtle emotions with sentient life (and so I’m now living in a van down by the river to further explore such things). I no longer discount these experiences as coincidences, this synergy of mind and nature—nor, and get this, one’s ability to metamorphose according to the patterns mind and nature prescribe.
Here’s what I mean (bear with me as I complete the story).
The thing about flab is that it does not flee exclusively from the area you would most like to see reduced in size, but evenly across the entire body. Hence, by not eating, my entire frame dwindled until Mohandas Gandhi and I shared an uncanny resemblance; yet the belly remained almost the same size as before, further increasing my resemblance to the pelican (a protruding belly and stick legs). At least I imagined this to be so in my nutrition- deprived delirium.
Sharing the subject of pelican lore with friends placed my focus upon them even more, as the Internet had helped me focus on swans. (Pelicans ride waves for fun. They soar at incredible heights in random patterns as if for the sheer joy of flight, and to send signals to us that if we would look up once in a while we might adopt their vaulted point of view.) And having considered that I resemble one, an uncanny event left me ever more certain that man, nature, and pelican are one.
I arrived at the printer as usual on the first of the month, waiting for the final copy of this paper to be spat from the press. On the loading dock, caught in morning’s resplendence, I wait, often, like a nervous father for a newborn. But this time I was not nervous. Still not eating, a little spacey, I seemed to drift over the trees that line the nearby creek and beyond, then high above the Yellowstone. Almost indiscernible, I saw them floating there, flopping this way and that like sails in a breeze. Because they fly so high, and due to my semi-ecstatic state of mind, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. I wondered, asking myself, if they were pelicans. Then, as if to answer my question, they sailed closer, from that distant altitude toward the dock, and even closer still, revealing themselves clearly and flickering in sunlight before they turned away. They had lingered long enough to be seen, then in unison casually drifted back toward the river, downstream.
It was a pelican moment, and I was so amazed at the time that only later did I consider the possibilities, the self-help/environmental movement I have since initiated—People for Pelicans, the fundraising adver-tisment for which reads: Find Your Inner Pelican/Classes Now Forming/Learn from a Master Pelican Whisperer Living in a Van Down by the River. Call 1-900-PELICAN.
But seriously (right), something unusual had occurred, and the question resounds—did the pelicans respond to my attention? In that state of free-flowing emptiness, joined to the hyperdimensional continuum that unites man with nature, I had no sense of happenstance, nor coincidence, much less doubt. Rather, it was what ought to have happened, natural attraction being what it is, the merging of man and pelican.
What could be simpler?
Besides, surely the pelicans noticed—I look like one of their own.
Disclaimer: The above commentary originally appeared in the August 2006 issue of the Montana Pioneer. The author has since gained weight, lost it, gained it back, lost it again, and then resorted to Plan B. Thanks to the inspiring and ever youthful Christie Brinkley and her cable tv spots promoting the Total Gym, and his acquisition of same (the Total Gym, not Christie), he’s in tip-top flat stomach shape, really ripped, not unlike a crocodile, whose flat stomachs go unrivaled in the natural world. Affinity with same though, and thereby the likelihood of psychically attracting crocs to the local area, may inadvertently introduce a non native species to the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, for which the author and this publication disavow all legal and ethical responsibility.