|Gulls in Riverside Park|
I love gulls.
It's not that surprising that I would have found them exotic at one point. My first memory of them is from a trip we took to Ireland and the UK when I was seven; the sight and sound of them is tied up with some exciting places. Not just the ocean, which would have been good enough, but castles and weird foods and funny accents and all sorts of fairy tale wonderment.
|Riverside Park, same day.|
|Terns in Morro Bay, CA|
I have a vague sense that the pigeon's reputation for spreading disease is not entirely unearned. I believe they are especially hazardous to people with HIV. I don't mean to make light of potential health hazards. I don't feed them, unlike some people in my neighborhood. But I still love them. I love their iridescent heads, their coral eyes, and their little cooing sounds (I'm specifically talking about Rock Doves, which are one of the breeds lumped under 'pigeon'). I love the patterns they make in the sky, especially at sunrise or sunset, when their silver under-wings catch the light like mirrors. There's a big flock of them that hang out by my subway stop, near the grocery store. The shows they put on in the late afternoon have helped me decompress more than once.
|Swans in Galway Bay|
Swans seemed magical. I've never heard them referred to as rats with wings. They're so big and graceful, and that white plumage looks so clean. Maybe they don't intrude on human spaces quite as aggressively. But I bet it's mostly that long neck and sparkling feathers that gets them a free pass.
|Riverside by the Hudson|
I found myself thinking about all this last week as I walked by the Hudson. The flock of Canada Geese in residence here had, for some reason, tripled in size. You may recall it was a Canada Goose at LaGuardia airport that brought down that airplane about two years ago. The plane landed in the river not too far from here. Some of these Geese might even have witnessed it. Maybe they learned a valuable lesson.
My first experience dealing with them in big numbers was in Seattle. One encountered them by Lake Washington. I thought they were beautiful, but was less enamoured of the guano-covered lawns one had to navigate to get to the beach. Naturally they've been designated rats with wings too. (I read something recently that claims the population exploded in the 60s, when hunters began breeding them so as to have more things to shoot at. If this is true, I have a lot less sympathy for the complaints that there are too many of them.)
Perhaps simply because of their greater numbers, I found their behavior intriguing. For a while they paddled back and forth in the water, seemingly with great purpose but no destination. Then they began flying up onto the shore, again giving the impression of maintaining a schedule ('and team Bravo...mooooove out!') or observing some kind of protocol. Eventually they were all on land, looking for any space where the snow had been blown off the grass. I love the sumi-ink look of their heads, the hues of walnut in their wings, and the way their white breasts seem to glow against the snow. Seeing hundreds of them all together, with their funny bow-legged strut, taking turns standing guard, I realized that I was feeling a sense of bounty. I felt wealthy, for lack of a better word. In addition to whatever romantic memories they trigger, the sheer number of them, whether gulls, pigeons, swans, or geese appeals to me. I feel the same thing looking at a field of violets. I love single violets, but how much better is it to have them by the hundreds? Part of what makes these animals rats is their ubiquity, of course. So, instead of denigrating them for being ratlike, I began to think maybe I should give rats another look-in.
I do not care for rats especially. I know they spread disease. They don't quite inspire the revulsion in me that they do in others, but I'd rather they stayed out of sight and out of my space. Their pink naked tails do gross me out. I doubt that's going to change. But maybe they deserve some credit for, I don't know, tenacity maybe? Neil Gaiman does something fun with them in his book Neverwhere. In the complicated society of London Below, rats are an aristocratic race that humans are proud to serve. It's mostly played for comedy of course (the main character, coming from our world of London Above, never learns their language, and takes his sweet time getting over his disgust) but it still made me think warm, fuzzy thoughts about rats for a brief time.
Tramping down this path started to make me rethink all sorts of things. I love bees, butterflies, praying mantises, lady bugs, crickets and fireflies, but the sight of just one lumbering, prehistoric water bug in my apartment inspires such an atavistic rage, I can't rest until I've reduced the thing to its component molecules. It's more than just "I don't want that in my house." Crickets and lady bugs have ended up in my house and I still find them charming. No rage is triggered, there's no lunging for a shoe to pound them into oblivion.
I kept wandering down this line of reasoning. I don't eat a lot of meat any longer (poulty and seafood only), but the thought of eating cow or pig doesn't disgust me. I've never tried horse, or deer, but those thoughts don't disgust me either. So why is the thought of eating dog or cat horrifying? I ate rabbit in the past quite happily, so it isn't just the pet thing. Besides, I've actually gotten to know some cows, pigs and chickens, and they often have rather nice personalities too.
I wouldn't say I have any earthshaking conclusions to draw here. I'm a product of my culture as much as the next person. But I felt like I'd made some kind of discovery that day. Perhaps it's as simple as noticing the mundane, truly seeing--and appreciating-- something I see every day. Gulls could be rats with wings, or they could be the magical evocation of castles by the sea they were when I was seven. Canada Geese could be enormous poop machines or they could be a whisper of wilderness in my urban landscape. Is this just taking a glass-half-full approach? Works for me.