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 The Hidden Backstory: “Mobilize, pelican dive : Better way to put it, get out of here”

Song FREEWAY is such an upbeat number, a track based on the personal experience of an idyllic Gulf coast road trip with my brother Stephen; and largely about the joys of travel. So why include ominous lines, “Mobilize, pelican dive : Better way to put it, get out of here”?

The ‘Deepwater Horizon’ disaster happens not too long after our return from the trip. Almost by default a reference appears in Steve's post trip poem and subsequently ends up in a first draft of the song as a sombre interlude - lyrics as follows: 

“42 to a barrel 

Men will quarrel again tomorrow 

We are warm in the Winter 

Precious well set in motion 

The spoils of oil 

Have oil, will travel 

It is bleeding thick and fast 

From a hole in the ocean


Such a tragedy - around an upbeat piano slap - just does not fit, and so this section is omitted from the final version of the song.

Meanwhile and all the while my heart goes out to the pelicans these large, prehistoric-looking birds quite comical of gait and yet so majestic in flight.

Florida and the Gulf coastlines are home to (specifically) the Brown Pelican. 

At Clearwater Beach I find them on the water around the pier and resting on pilings and at the harbor. They can’t help but grab the attention. I watch them fly gracefully in V formations along the breakwaters. It’s a fantastic and peaceful experience to witness a Brown pelican catch fish. It performs an awe-inspiring dive, head-first from as high as 65 feet over the ocean - tucking and twisting to the left to protect its throat. On plunging into the sea, its pouch fills with water while its throat expands and traps a tasty meal.

Pelicans being part of the Floridian identity, they have now also become an image that is representative of the wildlife so dreadfully affected by the oil spill.

And so, the two ominous lines remain within the song as an incongruous and reflective reminder. 

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More on the Brown Pelican, in historical context...

In 1970 Brown Pelicans are put onto the Endangered Species List. The pesticide Endrin kills them outright while DDT leads to thin shelled eggs that break under the weight of the parents. DDT is banned and use of Endrin reduced, and pelican numbers rise until – in November 2009 - they receive a welcome ‘delisted’ status. 

Only a few short months later - on April 20th 2010 - the British Petroleum ‘Deepwater Horizon’ oil platform explodes. Many human lives are lost. It is the worst environmental disaster in American history. Around 200 million gallons of oil pour into the Gulf of Mexico. Media share horrific pictures of oil-drenched wildlife that brings tears to the eyes of everyone watching. Pelicans harmed, are reported to be around 10,000. 

There are common daily risks for the species. Humans can panic them and cause them to abandon their nests. There are those who like to collect their eggs. Others will hunt and kill them. Around 700 pelicans die annually in Florida due to being entangled in fishing line. 

Brown Pelican populations have stabilized and remain delisted thanks to continued conservation efforts and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

They are still regarded as a Species of Moderate Concern. 

As much as we love to co-exist with these gracious birds and (seemingly) they too with us, this is a shout for the Brown Pelicans.

Credit References:

photo by Alison Fleming