“The Wounded Sea Gull” by Jules Breton
You left me Boundaries of Pain –
Capacious as the Sea –
Between Eternity and Time –
Your Consciousness – and me
~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #713)
…gulls on the ice…
It seems that this winter has been a harsher one than average, a monotony of record low temperatures and record high amounts of snow. March came in like a lion. It must be a potent combination of cabin fever and mourning, but I still feel like I’m staggering around in a daze. Maybe it will go out like a lamb and things will settle down for a time.
Grief distracts is strange ways. There’s the usual opening of the refrigerator to get something out of the microwave, but then there’s the trying to deposit a check stub when I meant to deposit the check itself. Cracking an egg into the sink instead of the bowl. I’m starting to wonder if I’m permanently altered. If adorable Zoë wasn’t waking me up each morning for her breakfast of trout and eggs, I wonder if I’d even bother getting out of bed.
For the life of me I cannot figure out why we decided to go to a cemetery to take pictures last weekend. We just had to get out of the house and it was the only thing we could think of doing outside. Elm Grove Cemetery borders the Mystic River and the wind off the river was biting and icy. My fingers weren’t cooperating they felt so raw.
But I noticed a theme as I got in and out of the car to warm up. I was looking up at the sky and the trees and the way they framed some of the tall monuments. Breathtaking beauty. There was another theme, too, but that will be for another post…
There were a couple of poignant scenes close to the ground, too. Perhaps this flag has been weathering the winter since Veterans Day.
…young and mature laughing gulls…
Gulls – a word of inherent paradox. Almost anyone can recognize a gull – or “seagull” – as such, but to identify certain gulls to species can vex the most experienced observers.
~ Steve N. G. Howell & Jon Dunn
(Gulls of the Americas)
…”regular” ring-billed gulls with their new and smaller laughing gull neighbors…
…I love these petite laughing gulls and their little black legs!…
Until April of 2012, when we were visiting our son and his family in Georgia, I was unaware of the fact that there were about 50 different species of gulls, about 22 of them found in North America. At Cumberland Island National Seashore I was very surprised to see two black-headed gulls perched on a dock.
Then in the summer of 2012 we noticed a couple of HUGE juvenile gulls at our local Eastern Point Beach here in Connecticut. After some sleuthing we determined that they must be the largest of all the gulls, great black-backed gulls. Awe-inspiring! I took pictures of them next to what we started calling “regular” gulls to show the difference in size.
This summer we were hoping to spot some adult great black-backed gulls, which we finally did. But before that, I noticed we had more new visitors, these little gulls with black legs. Time to purchase a reference guide! I’m not 100% positive, but I think they are laughing gulls.
Now what species are my beloved “regular” gulls? Again, not absolutely sure, but I think they are ring-billed gulls. The problem I seem to be facing is that gulls molt several times as they mature and look a little different during each of their four cycles, sometimes dramatically different.
…an adult great black-backed gull with a “regular” ring-billed gull…
… great black-backed gull contemplates taking off…
It was considered unlucky to kill a seagull, as they are the souls of dead sailors. So if a seagull were to land on the bow of the ship, you didn’t want your captain to see you chase it off as a comrade has come to visit.
~ K. E. Heaton
(Superstitions of the Sea)
So many of my ancestors were lost at sea – I have to wonder sometimes…
…perhaps the great black-backed gull is headed for the approaching ship…
photos by Barbara Rodgers
“ring-billed gull” by Barbara Rodgers
This week I have not read any book, nor once walked in the woods and field. I meant to give its days to setting outward things in order, and its evenings to writing. But, I know not how it is, I can never simplify my life; always so many ties, so many claims! However, soon the winter winds will chant matins and vespers, which may make my house a cell, and in a snowy veil enfold me for my prayer.
~ Margaret Fuller
(Letter to William H. Channing, October 25, 1840)
The seagulls know the truth of it
And scream it overhead
~ David Gray
♫ (Nos Da Cariad) ♫
Growing up visiting the beaches of Cape Cod I never paid close attention to seagulls, taking them very much for granted. But in 2011, after reading the book, A Time for Everything, by Karl O. Knausgård, I’ve been drawn to these interesting sea birds. However, it wasn’t until April of last year (2012) that I noticed that there are different kinds of seagulls, when I saw a pair of black-headed gulls perched on a dock at Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia.
Now I’m pretty sure the gulls we commonly have on our beach here in Connecticut are ring-billed gulls. One day last August (2012), Tim & I were having a light supper sitting at a picnic table on the grass at our beach. We were chatting away and I was watching a gull behind him, who was loitering on the grass, hoping for a handout. (We never give them anything, however, because our food is not good for them.) Slowly it dawned on me that this was the biggest gull I had ever laid eyes on! And yet he had the speckled coloring of an immature one.
Thankfully I had my camera, but when Tim turned around to see what I was so excited about the gull took off. He came back, however, and began strutting along the sidewalk as if he owned the place.
Eventually he walked up onto the rocks and posed for me.
In the pictures above and below I was trying to capture this huge baby standing as close to an adult “regular” gull as I could, to illustrate the difference in size. There were two of these large gulls present that day, but this was the one that came closer to us.
Ten days after this gull encounter at the beach we had to take Tim to the hospital in the middle of the night. At dawn I came home to shower and then return to the hospital. As I started driving down Bank Street in New London there was a seagull in the middle of the street, feasting on some roadkill. He didn’t move out of the way of my car until it was almost too late. When he did take off he didn’t fly away, though. He kept flying just a few feet in front of my car, flying very low, all the way down Bank Street to Parade Plaza.
If seagull shows up it means it’s time to clean up your home environment and let go of and recycle as much as you possibly can. … Spend a significant amount of time at the seashore meditating, allowing the rhythms of the waves and the wind to be your guiding pulse.
~ Dr. Steven D. Farmer
(Animal Spirit Guides)
It wasn’t until late September, when we took a day trip to Block Island, that we got a clue about the identity of these giant seagulls. Our tour guide asked us if we had ever seen a great black-backed gull, the largest of all gulls. Apparently they are showing up on Block Island, too!
After Tim came home from the hospital, but before we went to Block Island, son Nate came up from Georgia to help “clean out our home environment” after Tim’s hospital stay. While he was here we took him to the beach one evening, all excited about showing him the big seagulls. But they weren’t there that night. However, we sat with him there for hours, soaking up the healing power of the sea and talking about the wonders of the universe – a memory I will treasure forever. The following sketch reminds me of some of our conversations, Mr. Logic and Ms. Wonder, chatting with their son…
Since Nate left to go back home we have spotted the great black-backed gulls at the beach again many times, even after Hurricane Sandy and Blizzard Charlotte, so it looks like the two of them are planning to stick around for a while. And my sister has reported seeing them there a couple of times, too, when she’s gone to the beach to eat a peaceful lunch in her car. Beverly thought I had to be exaggerating until she saw them for herself!
On Friday November 9, Tim & I drove up to Cape Cod for the day, to attend a memorial service for my Aunt Betty in Harwich. The last time we were on the Cape was in the spring of 2009, far too long to be away, but so much has been going on in our lives the past few years.
It was so wonderful to see and hug my uncle (my mother’s brother) again, and two of my cousins. Two of my mother’s cousins were also there with their wives. We had some great conversations with them all about fond memories and genealogical discoveries. And my grandparents’ elderly neighbors from across the street were there, too.
As I mentioned before, my Aunt Betty was a woman of very strong faith, and a lovely, gracious, generous lady. I think she would have been pleased with the simple memorial her son arranged for her. On a table in front of the altar there was a picture of her, a single rose in a vase, a pencil, and her Bible, complete with her notes in the margins and many underlined scriptures. My uncle recalled how much she loved roses and how he made sure she received one for every birthday and every wedding anniversary. And he felt the pencil was a fitting token of her love of writing.
After the reception Tim & I went to the cemetery at the First Congregational Church in Harwich, where a number of my ancestors, my grandparents and my mother lie buried. I left them each a white rose from the bouquet we were given to take home after the service. Of course there were tears, there had been tears off and on all day, but also a deep feeling of peace and connection.
We couldn’t leave the Cape without visiting the sea, and so decided to go to the West Dennis Beach, and there felt anew the truth of Isak Dinesen’s words, “The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.“ The first picture is looking southwest over Nantucket Sound, the second is a bit of the wrack line, and the third is seagull footprints in the sand.
New London Ledge Light, at the mouth of the Thames River, Long Island Sound
Saturday was an overcast day. “Welcome aboard the Jessica W,” our captain’s voice came over the sound system. “We have rough seas today so please stay seated.” And we were off! Our very first high-speed ferry ride! We zoomed past the red lighthouse (above) and, a short time later, the lighthouse with solar panels on the deck (below). We kept our eyes on the horizon so we wouldn’t get sea-sick and a little over an hour later we docked at Old Harbor and set foot on a very picturesque Block Island for the first time in our lives.
Race Rock Light, off the coast of Fishers Island, Long Island Sound
“What took you so long?” quipped our taxi-driver/tour-guide, when he found out we lived just over the sound in Connecticut and had never been to Block Island before. He was a gregarious old salt with many a tale to tell about the heroes and villains of the island’s history. And we were amused by his frequent references to the historical society, which he called the “hysterical” society, presumably because of its overly zealous efforts to keep the island “as-is” for future generations.
One story was about the woman portrayed in the above statue. Apparently the temperance movement was quite active during Prohibition on Block Island and to pacify its members this monument was erected by the town to honor the biblical Rebecca-at-the-Well. Because of the grape clusters hanging from the woman’s ears, though, it is thought that the woman is actually Sophrosyne, the Greek goddess of moderation, self-control, restraint, and discretion. In other words, Temperance.
Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.
~ W. H. Auden
Our new friend took us to Payne Overlook where we could look 182 feet down the bluff to the beach below. Next time we go, we plan to bring a picnic lunch and spend some time at Mohegan Bluffs. There are 152 wooden steps down to the beach below, so we can do some beach combing and then climb back up the steps at a snail’s pace with time for lots of rest stops.
When I inquired about the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge I was told there were lots of them. (Later on I bought a trail guide and found that there are indeed ten wildlife areas on this small island.)
Picking up on my interest in nature, our guide then asked if we had ever seen a great black-backed gull. It is the largest of all the seagulls. As he described it I began to think that perhaps he had helped us solve a mystery about a pair of gigantic seagulls that were visiting our beach in Groton (left) for a few days near the end of August. They were so much larger than the regular gulls, but were speckled like immature gulls. After we got home I did a little more research and found a picture of an immature great black-backed gull which does very much look like the ones we saw here in Groton. Larus marinus
Later on, we visited Southeast Lighthouse. The following picture I took looking up the five-story stairway in the light tower.
Southeast Light, on Mohegan Bluffs, Block Island
It was a delightful day trip we had, something we’ve been meaning to do for many years. There are many more things to explore on Block Island. A cemetery that may be the resting place of some of my newly discovered Littlefield ancestors. A labyrinth… Below is the Jessica W, high-speed ferry, waiting to take us home.