My little corner of the world gets a bad rap, weather-wise. Apart from that freak snowstorm a few years back, this time of year is quite beautiful. Yesterday was especially gorgeous. Since I’ve spent the last week on the couch in a haze of cold medicine and Psych reruns, I decided to get out and enjoy the day while it lasted. Walking around the waterfront listening to the calls of what remains of the seagulls, I was reminded of a hilarious story from when I was in grad school.
Before moving to Central Pennsylvania to reside in a place nestled between some serious mountains, I’d only ever lived in places near the water. I grew up on the Great Lakes in a city built on a major river, and the town I lived in when I spent a semester abroad had a river running through the center of it. When I arrived in the not-so-happy valley, I felt completely claustrophobic. I’d go into the grocery store on a perfectly pleasant day and leave thinking that the weather had done a complete 180 because of the darkness peeking out from in between nearby buildings. But it wasn’t storm clouds; it was just the mountains in the distance. I felt ridiculous, and it took quite a bit of adjusting.
That paled in comparison to how silly I felt when I realized, almost two years into my Pennsylvania residency, that there were no seagulls anywhere. I remarked on it in one of the grad student offices the day after the observation struck me, and everyone let out a hearty guffaw at my expense. Of course there were no seagulls. There was no sea; there were no bodies of water to speak of for an hour’s drive in any direction besides perhaps a few trickles that you might call creeks running through the forest. No sea, no gulls.
To understand how odd this revelation was when it struck me, you have to realize that seagulls are everywhere in my hometown and the surrounding inner-ring suburbs. They’re not just on the waterfront, oh no. They’re soaring over the minor league baseball park, waiting for someone to leave their fries unattended. (Once, an umpire had to halt the game so the manager could chase the seagulls off the outfield because there were so many, they were getting in the way of game play.) They chase you down in the parking lots of fast food restaurants and shopping malls, scavenging the trash for errant goodies. They’re chilling out in backyard swimming pools with the ducks. (No joke.) Seagulls were so ubiquitous in my landscape growing up, that I didn’t even notice them anymore. To the point that their absence, once I realized it, was pretty shocking.
I’ve noticed since moving back home that there aren’t as many seagulls as I remember from my childhood. I don’t know if that’s because we’re hemorrhaging our population in this old steel town, or if people and businesses are just tidier about their messes. Who would have thought that someone would miss the sounds of the seagull?