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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fixed wings

The wind has been blowing steadily out of the north and east the last few days, and this gives the gulls a chance to strut their stuff. I use the word strut deliberately, not only because what gulls do in the wind is like walking on it but also because they do it with fixed wings, bound to their bodies as if by metal struts. On Friday morning just after dawn I watched for half an hour as the gulls sailed straight into the storm, fast, scores of them all moving north, hardly moving their wings, certainly not flapping them, in what can only be described as the perfect use of a natural body.

I'd like also to use words like joy and pleasure, and that's fine for me but not for them. Even if a gull could suddenly speak English and describe what he's doing, I still wouldn't understand him. I don't know how a bird weighing a few pounds can glide seemingly without effort into a wind gusting to 25 mph. I don't know why they're all going north and none south. I don't know what new marvelous perspective they get on rocks and waves each time they twitch their wings a bit to take advantage of some unknown lift and drag. It's a miracle.

Airplanes used to seem miraculous until I had to fly too many times in them. And now they're just fearful, roaring, groaning, crude approximations of flight. I suppose the gull and the plane use the same principles of aerodynamics. But one is grace and the other grease.

The next time those beasts using Knox County Regional haunt me, the sightseeing prop that needs a muffler, the antique biplane buzzing joylessly in some airshow, the commuter jet bringing people from Boston for the wrong reasons, the rich-boy Gulfstream that roars in the middle of the night, I'll remember the northeast wind, and laugh.

1 comment:

Jeff Boatright said...


Richard Bach wrote about both types of flying, of course; Jonathan Livingston Seagull about the natural and a whole bevy of books, shortstories, and articles about manmade flying.

I'm not sure how an antique biplane (pilot?) buzzes joylessly; I'm sure that even airshow pilots can become as jaded as any professional can about his craft. I don't know that JLS has weathered the years that well (it needs to be placed in the context of its time), but might I suggest Bach's "Biplane" or "Nothing by Chance" to give you a perspective, if not that of a gull, at least of a human who soars over rocks and waves just for the fun of it.

Another gem is "Flight of Passage" by Rinker Buck.

Or, wait til next Spring, go over to the airport, and buy a ride in the biplane, or a sailplane, or both! You, too, can soar!