As I sit on the beach at Point Lookout on a glorious, sun-shining summer Sunday, a group of seagulls glides to a halt in the sand about three feet in front of me. I am taken with their gorgeous eyes, yellow with flecks of brown, sizing me up with sideways turned heads. There are might be 10 gulls in this group. Only they separate me from the ebb and flow of the ocean.
As I glance from the waves to the birds, I notice one gull a bit more unsteady than its friends. At first I think the gull is standing on one leg with the other tucked up tight, as my English budgie does in his cage at home when he gets sleepy. But then I see that the bird has only one foot. Two legs, but one foot. My husband notices, too.
I am impressed at how well it balances itself among sand, wind, waves and companions. Every now and then the bird hops precariously on one leg while the footless one dangles. I worry that the gull will stumble, but it doesn't. It stands tall amid life's happenings. And this bird looks pretty healthy, too, as if it has been eating well this summer. The seagull stretches its perfect wings, feathers moving ever so slightly in the breeze.
I snap a photo. I am engrossed by it. Pretty soon two teenage boys come along, happy and carefree. They are oblivious to the wonder in front of me. As they kick a bright green soccer ball back and forth very close to the seagulls, the birds back away one by one. But not my friend. Standing strong on one leg, keeping one eye on the boys, it seems to say, "I am not afraid of your ball. Life's thrown more than that at me."
Eventually, the boys drift away and one by one the other seagulls return to the same spot. They circle the one-footed wonder as if to say, "You OK? We're here now. That was close!" The steady gull bends its knees and rests on its belly.
I imagine all sorts of scenarios as to how the seagull came to lose a foot. Was it in a fight? Did it get tangled in debris? Was it rescued, rehabilitated and brought back to the beach? Was it born that way?
I wonder at its majesty. I delight in its calmness, bravery, peacefulness. The beach is so crowded today. And yet the seagull rests. It is so beautiful here.
Reader Holly Kearney lives in Merrick.