a metaphor of gulls


I’ve only written scattered thoughts recently—lines jotted down in class, phrases saved on the notes app in my phone, scraps of words all clustered together in an attempt to describe a particular hue of blue. It’s one of those phases. Gathering wandering exploring excavating. You know how it is.

Several people have sent me letters recently—which I adore and am eternally grateful for—and in one someone mentioned how much they love my blog and always look forward to reading it. So this is a long way of saying thanks for the motivation. Here you go.

I recently wrapped up a California naturalist course, which involved a lot of science and sitting and Powerpoint presentations and retirees asking me questions about their iPhones. The last time I’ve taken anything remotely biology related was sophomore year in high school, and that combined with the fact that the moment I was most engaged was when an instructor made a passing comment about Mary Oliver really affirmed who I was and where my interests lay.

To “graduate,” we had to present a capstone project. Lisa’s was about gulls.

Lisa was a nebula of a person, a riot of color and brightness composed of tiny indeterminable particles. It was difficult to look beyond the color, to not be distracted by her strange comments and to see what was really going inside of her tightly curled head. She was easy to dismiss as weird. And she was. But there was a lot more to it.

Anyway, Lisa’s capstone presentation was about gulls. If I was going to be scientific about it, I’d tell you that her presentation was about gull management on a high school campus and altering the paradigm of how students view the gulls. But I am not a very scientific person. Her presentation was about inclusion and what it means to be ostracized and how the difference between a pest and a pet is just one tender, soft “s.”

Lisa had chosen to sit next to me for the last two days of classes, and on the final day, in the last moments of class, she had a comment that just eviscerated me. Because beneath her wild ravings about owls, she was so goddamn perceptive, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much she had noticed about all of us, because she had noticed parts of me I didn’t think were visible to others, and I think about that one breakfast conversation we’d shared and how we’d locked eyes and she’d smiled, and she knew, she knew what I was thinking right then, the thoughts that were swarming my heart and head. She was miles ahead of me, this wild, lonely, owl woman.

I often think about that one David Foster Wallace quote: I’m so scared of dying without ever being really seen. Can you understand? I think I understand.

I think I understand which is why I want to talk about Lisa and her gulls without actually talking about Lisa and her gulls at all. Because that’s the point of metaphors. To give us a dollop of verbiage to hide behind. To be able to say, this is me, me, me, see me, love me, feel me, without saying any of that. To be vulnerable without being too heavy, too transparent, too gut-wrenching.

Louise Glück wrote a book about flowers that is only vaguely about flowers. Helena Fitzgerald wrote about Gatorade but really wrote about so much more than Gatorade. And when I wrote about Jupiter, it had nothing to do with Jupiter.

So Lisa wants to help these gulls. She wants students to stop calling them “crapbags with wings.” She wishes every gull could be as loved as Sandor, who is fed scraps from a cafe window. She has some ideas about practices to implement, technologies to pursue to help her with this gull “problem.”

Lisa took down my contact info before class let out for good, and honestly I’m crossing my fingers that she reaches out so that I can hear more about her 98-year-old father with health problems and her relationship with her sisters, and, of course, the gulls. More than anything, I want to hear about the gulls.


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