EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY: Reconsidering the seagull

“Rats with wings.”  That’s the common derogatory descriptor about that common sea bird, the gull. Last summer, one wily airborne rodent grabbed an entire overflowing lobster roll from my hand just as I was taking a first bite. Darn rat!  Mostly though, gulls are a casually observed but uncontemplated part of our daily landscape. We might notice one pecking at an unlucky crab or perched on a neighbor’s chimney. But we don’t give their presence a second thought, even seconds later. Unexpectedly for me, the merely observed recently became the deeply contemplated. I was given the gift of a week staying in a friend’s apartment overlooking Boston Harbor. It was a respite from construction at home, as well from the frustration of a mobility-reducing broken ankle.

Dreams of wandering the city though became the reality of mostly staying put and staring at the view out the apartment window. And oh, what a view! The only object between the oversized glass windows and the water was the flat roof of the federal courthouse. I figured my gaze would be held by the fuel-filled tankers moving through the harbor, the daily commuter ferries, the ubiquitous coast guard craft, the distant Tobin Bridge. In fact, though, it became the courthouse roof itself which held my fascination. Or rather, the late afternoon and evening arrivals on the roof.  Starting at about 4:30 p.m., gulls of all shapes and sizes, from all directions, began appearing, descending directly like graceful drones as opposed to the glide path of planes landing on a runway. At first, there were just a handful – three gulls from this direction, two gulls from that. They each arrived alone, some purposeful about choosing their landing spot, others circling above as if checking out their options.

Then as the light started to fade, dozens more arrived, then tens of dozens and then seemingly hundreds. It was as if every gull from Chelsea Creek to Castle Island had been summoned to a mandatory family meeting. Because I have the sense of humor of a third grader, I chuckled out loud as I imagined them exchanging gossip from the day. ‘Hey Fred, did you see all the mussels broken open on the dry dock by the Design Center? I did that!’

But mostly, I just watched. The first day. The second. Until I made a point of being at the window at the same time each late afternoon that week. Without effort, the watching transformed into something else, more akin to meditation, conscious of each gull instead of each breath. One early evening, something, a strong gust of wind, or a loud sound, sent all of the gulls back into the sky – some flying so high they looked like black specks about to alight on the emerging stars. The disrupted gulls circled at varying heights, as if contained by an invisible funnel, hundreds calling out, a dance and a song of their own creation. Eventually, each settled back on the roof. In their exact same spot, like a reserved parking space? Impossible to know, but I wished I did. By dawn, they were gone, I never was up in time to see the departures, to know whether it was a reverse of their arrivals, first a few, then dozens and then tens of dozens flying east or south, all directions of the compass. Passing their day mostly ignored, until they were summoned once again to the roof by the fading light. There was a majesty to their movement, a purpose to their presence. The common sea gull had not only been reconsidered, it had been transformed.

Here are a few other items for reconsideration from my week in the city:

The Tobin Bridge

From my Seaport vantage point, the Tobin looked like a piece from a Thomas the Train toy set, a child’s hand having cantilevered it at the narrow neck of the inner harbor. Unlike its nearby cabled, Springsteen-anointed cousin the Zakim, there’s a faded elegance about the Tobin, its green metal profile a relief from the gray and brown winter landscape. I won’t oversell it, it’s no Golden Gate, but it’s cool. And it will be a lifeline for the North Shore when the Sumner Tunnel closes seven days a week this summer.

The Embrace

I’d read the reviews of the newly installed tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Many were bluntly unimpressed. I was blown away. The meticulously recreated buttons on his jacket cuff. The bracelet on her arm. The wrinkles on his hand. The nail beds on her fingers. The diversity of people gazing up at it, walking under it, touching it. The handmade memorial to Tyre Nichols nearby. The craftsmanship of The Embrace is extraordinary. The simple message of the power of love was profound.


My Uber app was only working intermittently, and as mentioned, I wasn’t walking anywhere fast. I needed a cab. Where were the cabs? What happened to the cab stands? I hobbled from The Embrace to the corner of School and Beacon Streets, a long hobble, because that’s where the cab stand I knew used to be. It was empty. Technology has decimated cabs. I used to not consider what that meant to city life. I’ve reconsidered. What can we do to support traditional cab drivers?

I have no larger meaning to impart from these reconsiderations. It was just a good reminder to myself that looking at something from a different vantage point is, in its own small way, transformative.  And I wanted to share that thought with you.

Virginia Buckingham
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A member of the Marblehead Current’s Board of Directors, Virginia Buckingham is the former chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, deputy editorial page editor for the Boston Herald and author of “On My Watch: A Memoir.” 

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