Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Nature Writing Entry #9

3-29-15 at 2:15 pm
At the Stewart Park Promontory


  • Temperature: 40 degrees
  • Wind: 3-4 MPH
  • Clouds: None!
Animals seen:
  • Gulls
  • Canada geese
  • Crows
  • Mallards
Humans seen:
  • Dozens of pairs of people walking and running around the park, lying on benches in the sun, playing on the playground, walking dogs


"Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight—how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. More than anything else Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly."



I’m sitting under a sky the color of sapphires on the stone terrace overlook, watching the chaos on the swan pen pond. It’s not really a pond again yet; there is still ice and snow and the water level resembles more of a puddle than a pond. But there is liquid water, muddy muck, and a gaggle of hungry gulls vying for whatever scraps they can find.

Herring gulls are the most common species of “seagull” on the east coast. They hang out in large groups, moving about from lake shore to parking lot to beach in search of the best meals. They take what they can get, they are scavengers.

They are also loud, these birds. Voices call, yak, scree and caw over and over, the cacophony blending into a music of sorts, but with no rhythm. They are a mob of constant motion. In the air, in the water, on the mud, bouncing off each other like molecules bonding and breaking. For no apparent reason one or two will fly up, circle, then swoop down to a new location a few feet away. Then resume their chatter with their neighbors. This continues until at some point they all screech and take wing at the same moment, leaving the mud and ice, making way for the lake. After circling for a short time, they sift slowly back to the mud pond, one by one. 

The gulls are beautiful in flight. Against the crystal blue above, white wings spread wide is like a perfect picture of freedom. They soar so effortlessly, feet tucked underneath their behinds, head turning left to right scanning the scene below. I am slightly jealous. Their vivacity, energy, vigor surrounds me and fills me as it fills the space of the swan pen.

But something is missing. I wonder how they can live as they do, so incredibly not nice. They scream in each other’s faces, push others away with a snap of the beak, and snatch food from the mouth of whoever’s swallowing. I saw one deliberately holding on to and pulling at another’s wing to… do what? I don’t know. What was the point of that? And it’s not simply a random outburst every now and then. They seem pissed off all the time. They are together as a flock, and yet they don’t seem to want each other’s company.

It’s a strange dichotomy. This need we have for others of our kind, and the struggles we face when we are all together. Is it the nature of the animal to behave this way, or is it the circumstances that bring to light the challenges? Is it a case of too many animals in too small a pond? Regardless of the why, do they have to live like this?

The gulls continue their racket. They dip their faces into the murky shallows and pluck up whatever yummy goodness they can find, then dash away to hide and consume their food without harassment. Up, a glide around the sky once more, then a splash into the water again, searching for what’s next.



"Jonathan, remember what you said a long time ago about loving the Flock enough to return to it and help it to learn?" [said Fletcher Gull.]

"Sure."

"I don’t understand how you manage to love a mob of birds that just tried to kill you."

"Oh, Fletch, you don’t love that! You don’t love hatred and evil, of course. You have to practice and see the real gull, the good in every one of them, and to help them see it in themselves. That what I mean by love. It’s fun, when you get the knack of it.'" 




Italicized sections from Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach.

Find out all about gulls at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology webpage.

6 comments:

Melanie Fox said...

Funny. I swear I just remembered having read - and loved - Jonathan Livingston Seagull a few days ago! We have a huge flock of gulls here along the New River, which strangely most often are found en masse in the Walmart parking lot. My kids have come to dislike them, for all the reasons you've described. But then I remembered that book and how it offers a completely different perspective of this species.

It’s a strange dichotomy. This need we have for others of our kind, and the struggles we face when we are all together.
That is such a powerful statement, one that gives me a great deal to reflect on.

Andrea said...

Ha ha! Gulls are obnoxious, aren't they? But fun to watch. There's fish ladder near us where we can watch the alewives migrate upstream and the gulls just sit there and dip the fish out of the water and you can see the fish still flopping after having been swallowed whole. It's amazing. Your description of the gulls screaming at and picking at each other sounds like my household--maybe because your son and stepdaughter are far apart in age or different genders they don't engage in as much gull-like behavior as my three boys do.

Amanda K. Jaros said...

Haha Andrea! That's funny. Your boys sounds lovely ;) Yes, my stepdaughter is too old to harass my son. He's way more spunky, but she puts up with him nicely. Like a good big sister.

Athena Gabrielle said...

"But something is missing. I wonder how they can live as they do, so incredibly not nice." It's an interesting paradigm shift, isn't it? My first manuscript was about human evolution for kids (I promise it is cooler than it sounds). And trying to convey the not-nice-things that our ancestors did and had to do to survive is... well... very animalistic.
I love your descriptions of flight by the way. So lovely and serene. I can see spring is finally coming your way too!

Brittany Hailer said...

I love your question:
"But something is missing. I wonder how they can live as they do, so incredibly not nice. They scream in each other’s faces, push others away with a snap of the beak, and snatch food from the mouth of whoever’s swallowing. I saw one deliberately holding on to and pulling at another’s wing to… do what? I don’t know."

I literally laughed out loud. I've always found gulls pretty comical, but after about twenty minutes they can become quite the nuisance. We can't blame them for their adaptability. I hope your lake thaws soon, Amanda!

Laura Roberts said...

It kills me that I had some sort of witty comment typed out here a week and a half ago and obviously never hit "Publish". The universe must be telling me that it wasn't too witty. Anyway, I've always gotten a kick out of seagulls. Rats with wings, and yet, how easy it is to see our society in their society.