Pelican, Valparaiso, Chile, 2015
In Chile there lives an environmental campaigner in the port of Valparaiso who I first met in the old pub of The Wickham Arms, Winchester. We became friends whilst she was living in Southampton, England, until she decided to return after many years of absence to her university town of Valparaiso where she’d campaigned both there and in Santiago against the Pinochet dictatorship. We packed her worldly possessions, gathered from years of scouting the English second hand shops, into a compartment in a container ship in Southampton and she unloaded it all in Valparaiso where she was to make a new life in Chile. I later visited this friend in Chile who was by that time, heavily involved in the environmental movement in Valparaiso and the fight against a government unsympathetic to the calls of its people for better environmental protection. There she told me a story which captured my heart. Every evening she would walk down the steep cerros (hills) from her house high above the city to the port. The journey from her house, not too far from the poet Pablo Neruda’s house, traversesthrough the tin houses which spill over one other down the sinuous streets to the sea. Looking out over the bay from the cerros, itfeels like you can pick the ships up off of the water.
On reaching the port one evening she saw a Pelican sitting on a large boulder and noticed it was apart from all the other birds and sea lions and sea birds that gather further beyond the shore. Curious, she moved closer to find that the bird made no attempt to move away and seemed to be looking down despondently. Eventually she moved close enough to sit down gently beside it. The bird was staring down between the rocks and when she followed its gaze she noticed the body of another Pelican washing between the boulders below it. The bird seemed to be mourning the loss of a partner. She stayed for many hours with the Pelican, talking to it gently and sitting by its side as the sun sank towards the horizon. As dark approached and groups of people began to appear, she felt the Pelican was still lost in desolation and unable to move on. After talking to the bird, she eventually reached down between the rocks and pulled up the sodden body of the dead bird. She held it in front of the Pelican eyes and explained how now it was nothing more than a body and she cast it out to sea. The Pelican watched everything and she witnessed a kind of understanding taking over the bird. The Pelican looked at her, out to sea to where she had cast its partner and back towards her again. Its composure began to change and little by little the alertness and life began to return to the bird. As the sun went down over the bay, she watched the Pelican gather its strength, look at her one last time and then fly away over the water.
This story and its sensitivity behind it really touched me. This painting is me imagining a moment from this tale told to me by my dear friend and it goes together with a song I wrote on the same subject.
Black/White pen on paper.