February 10, 2006

Memory of Gulls.

I have been devoting a great deal of time on my days off from waitressing to work on this new book-project that I have started. Indeed, much more time already than I've ever devoted to any project other than my college thesis, which after the first few months became, at its worst moments, downright painful. The best thing about the project I am pursuing now is that, at its worst, I feel so overwhelmed with respect for the topic that I feel wholly unqualified to write about it; at its best, I feel like saying a thousand things at once and can't seem to limit myself to saying any one thing clearly. The only way I can work at all is to strike a happy medium between these two states, at which point the floodgates open and words pour forth. This is not at all a bad position to be in when it comes to writing a book, it seems to me.

I have noticed, in the process of writing and outlining its various chapters, that I use a good number of experiences and examples from my life pre-witchcraft. At first, this didn't strike me as at all odd, since really, I haven't been practicing witchcraft intentionally for all that long, really. I certainly don't have decades under my belt the way some others do. But when I stop to think about just how powerful and relevant some of my experiences have been, especially those from early childhood, I feel eerily pleased that this type of work has been in my nature seemingly all-along. (It also leads me to wonder, once I finish this book and present it to my parents to explain "what the hell I'm doing with my life" at the moment, just how surprised they will be, or if they'll smile, shrug and say, "We knew this already--now get a real job.") Along these lines, I wanted to share a childhood memory here, since I was reminded of it the other day but I'm not sure I'll be able to use it as an example in the book itself. Please do enjoy.

When I was in third-grade, I somehow got it into my head that I could call seagulls. I grew up in Lancaster county, nowhere near an ocean or any large body of water, but we were graced with a few gulls here and there during certain times of the year. I can only guess that they must have made their way up the Susquehanna, but however they managed it, I took their presence almost for granted as kid. And so, one day, I decided that I could call them. I took my lunch outside to the playground with the other children, and set off for the field that stretched out behind our school. I tossed up grapes and little bits of bread, flinging them high into the air, and calling to them a call that I cannot now remember, but which to my seven-year-old mind was very specific and meaningful to gulls. (It probably went something like, "Food! Seagulls, here's food!") Amazingly, they came. At first, one or two, then a few more. There didn't have to be a single gull in sight when I began, but after fifteen minutes, the whole sky was shadowed with wings, swooping and circling (and, also amazingly, never once pooping on my little girl head).

For about a month, everyday I went to the field and called the gulls. I protected them fiercely from the little boys who liked to torture them by running screaming into a flock that had settled. I can only imagine what the other children must have thought, watching me surrounded by birds, laughing and calling and wasting my food instead of playing on the jungle gym or jumping rope. Honestly, thinking back, I don't know why I did it, or why I did it alone. Didn't I have any friends in grade school? (Don't answer that. ;) Eventually, a teacher told my parents that I was feeding my lunch to the birds instead of eating it, and my father told me to stop it. I tried explaining to him how great it was and how much fun, but he wouldn't believe me. I finally convinced him, as well as my little brother, to come with my to the park one day and watch me call them. With my father's doubt and disapproval, I called, but the gulls did not come. Perhaps, would not come. After half an hour of trying, my dad gave up and went home, telling me if I wasted my lunch again, I would be in big trouble. I lingered in the park, wondering why the gulls had left... As I finally walked back up the block to my house, I saw a single seagull drifting low along the trees. I ripped off a bit more bread and tossed it up to her. She caught the bread mid-air, then swooped off out of sight. I never tried calling the gulls again.

What I find so fascinating about this particular memory is that it seemed so unremarkable at the time, even natural. It was obvious that the birds were responding to the food, and not to me, so no one thought anything of it. But still, no one else seemed to be able to do it, either. Thinking back, I can't help but wonder if the seagulls were, in some respects, responding to me and to my call, and not just to the sight of food (after all, gulls don't normally hunt by picking crabs or fish out of mid-air). It is the kind of experience that, as an adult witch, I would revel in, citing it as proof of my humble connection to nature, my intuitive sense of oneness with the earth and the oceans. As a child, it was simply fun and comforting (perhaps I did not have many friends, perhaps I ate lunch alone and the gulls became, for that short month, my companions and confidants). Above all, it is a memory of an act that a child could get away with, but an adult is very often cut-off from. It is a reminder that we knew a great many things as children, about healthy priorities and spontaneous play. It is a reminder to seek out and renew those childhood intuitions, even when the "real world" is admonishing us to be practical, reasonable and normal.


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