Sound of Gulls

There is something exotic about the cries of a gull echoing down city streets or the sudden flurry of white wings between towering office buildings. It’s as if something wild had wandered into the city, something unexpected and surprising, like a wind that smells of sea salt and distance or the fleeting shadow of a coyote cast by a street lamp.

The streets of Seattle and the air above the office towers are full of gulls. From the waterfront I often watch them ride heated columns of air. Glued to the earth, I wonder what it would be like to treat height as casually as I treat distance, stepping from a window sill 300 feet above the city streets as casually as I step from the curb. But the wings of a gull are hollow, made mostly of wind, while mine are dense and made of dirt.

As a poetic metaphor, gulls don’t stand close scrutiny. Like Bald Eagles, they’re opportunists, scavengers, pirates and thieves. It’s a misnomer to call them sea gulls. They’re not even necessarily coastal, often flocking to garbage dumps hundreds of miles inland and occasionally as far as the Great Salt Lake. But there is something breathtaking in the flight of gulls wheeling in the yellow light at the edge of a squall, like lost souls driven before the storm, or soaring past the city’s skyscrapers as if they were sea cliffs.

I think I would never live in a city where I could not hear the sound of gulls.

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