"The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook…"
– Dylan Thomas
I am a devoted admirer of seagulls. I find them humorous, charming, ridiculous, beautiful, clumsy, graceful and full of webbed aplomb.
I know that many people disagree with me. I remember visiting Hastings, an ancient town crowned with battlements, tumbling into the English Channel. Every morning I would join our group for breakfast, and inevitably the conversation would lead off with bitter complaints about the gulls' crying throughout the night. I had to disagree. I enjoy being reminded that the ocean is near; that if I were to open a window I would be embraced by the sea with a veil of salt, dappled with scales and starfish. I enjoy listening to their forlorn voices threading through the briny fog and sea clouds.
When they are grounded, their dignity is absurd. They stare intently into the horizon, looking for the forests that grow beneath the waves and the islands shrouded with maritime breath; for the pock-marked hides of whales; for rainbow-colored grottos. They sense the tides, they hear the currents. They gather in serious groups – an open invitation for children to invade and scatter their numbers.
And when that times comes, they run into space, taking a leap into its invisible rivers – swimming higher and higher. The wings extend so wide and fine, each feather ruffled by the airy fingers holding their host aloft. Then, like a kite flying itself, after much maneuvering, the seagull becomes a stationary ship on its sea of wind: staring down with benign interest on the curling waves and the stippled shore.
Sometimes I see their chevron-shaped shadows circling over the rocks and hillsides. Calm and leisured, they are messages drifting down from their madcap owners.
I occasionally see them in the city, several miles inlland. Now, I know that seagulls are opportunisitc feeders with a powerfully developed sense of smell, and that they can smell a rancid banana 50 miles away. But I always liked to think that they were there to remind me – as they did many years ago in southern England – of coastlines, patterned shells and creatures shining beneath the waves.