I recently returned from a week in Florida, a much needed break from my usual grading and the Midwestern winter. While at the beach, I was amazed at the perfect symmetry and agility of the gulls. On shore, they are squabbling, raucous scavengers, too used to tourists’ crumbs, picking at bugs in the sand. They are plump and ungainly, shouldering out their wings as they nudge each other in groupings.
But when in flight, they seem a different species. From years of coastal practice, they now perfectly fly in formation, just inches above the undulation of the waves, their heads down with sharp black eyes piercing the translucent surface, looking for minnow shadows. Mostly they glide, their wings spread, the tips of their feathers curved slightly downward, creating pockets of air that buoy them just out of the reach of the surf. When the pocket of air deflates, their bodies rise slightly, allowing necessary space between water and air for their wings to beat a steady rhythm, each downbeat bringing their wing tips to nearly touch the wave crest, close enough to feel the spray, to send droplets flinging with the upbeat of their wings. I watched line after line of them repeat the same pattern, the gulls following each other beak to tail, a white shadow to the gray hump of water they followed, until human voices waked me, and I drowned.