A Squabble of Angels

The Potter brought me half a crab yesterday for dinner, one of the kinder things he’s done for me lately, so this afternoon I headed down to the beach with the leftover shells and scraps. Down the driveway, across the road, and onto the small deck where I opened the bag and tossed the scraps over the railing. They made a small clatter on the gravel beach. Almost instantly a flock of about a dozen sea gulls materialized, circling and shrieking above me. Where had they come from? I saw others heading our way. My head spun as I looked up at them, circling around and around, so close. From that angle their wings are enormous. I waited for them to land, but not one did. I stepped farther back between some bushes, but they never descended and after a few minutes, one by one, they flew away. Disappointed by the menu? Perhaps scraps from half a crab isn’t worth the bother of a landing? One hopeful gull floated just offshore.

Or perhaps they have some collective, inherited memory of the old man in our neighborhood who every day tossed bread from a day old bakery to the gulls, way more enticing than a few crab shells. That was some 50 years ago in this same spot. He always attracted a big gull group, too.

“What good are they to me,” he’d grumble, “they don’t even lay eggs.” Our family had chickens in a pen nearby.

Toshiba Digital Camera

Gulls feeding on a Salish Sea mudflat at low tide

Looking up at them today, their big white angel wings were beautiful, hardly an image for the scrappy bird they are. They’ll eat almost anything and are found in huge swarms (bigger than flocks!) at landfills and garbage dumps. I wrote a small booklet once about Pacific Northwest gulls, but I still enjoyed Sandi Doughton’s article about gulls last month in the Sunday Seattle Times magazine section. She reported some of their less than angelic nicknames, “Flying Rats,” and “Dump Ducks.” A flock of gulls, she reports, is called a “squabble.” They do fight a lot, but almost never kill another, she wrote.

Gulls are gifted at “riding” air currents. These air currents can be produced by big ships, or even by ferries. If you’ve watched gulls gliding beside the ferry you’re riding,, they’re simply catching a ride. They have been known to follow ships across the Atlantic, free-loading scraps–and air currents–all the way.

Today as we realize how fragile our lives on Earth are, the words below are probably even truer than when I wrote them some 40 years ago.

FERRY RIDE
I catch my breath
as I glance up from my newspaper.
You’re a pearl drifting,
suspended beside my window.
Boat and air move us together
as one. We share
one destination.