A GROUP OF FISHERMEN docked, bringing to shore a seagull chick they had found in the water off Gull Rock. One man put the bird into Mary Jane’s hands and asked her to take care of it. Johnny, the yard man, constructed a wire cage behind the laundry building for protection since the bird couldn’t yet fly, and she supplied minnows and water several times a day. From time to time she let the bird out to waddle along behind her. Little girl and a seagull. She called him Peter after her uncle who was then flying Admiral Halsey from island to island in the Pacific.She cried when the gull’s wings grew large enough and he flew off over the lake. From the end of the dock she called to him, “Peter, Peter!”

He came back. Out of a flock of gulls one separated himself and landed at her feet. He followed her up the dock to the yard, played this game for a while, and then flew off again to rejoin his kind. “That bird was meant to be wild,” her grandmother said. It was all right if he were wild, just so he kept coming back to her.
One day he didn’t come. She stood at the end of the dock and called, “Peter,” over and over until her mother came. She explained that Peter wasn’t coming back. There were dogs that belonged to one of the guests. They didn’t know Peter was special. They thought he was a gull just like any other; not one with a name who had become the friend of a little girl. And they attacked him. He didn’t use his wings to escape. He didn’t know enough to be afraid. “Maybe it was wrong of me to let you tame that bird,” she said.

At the end of the dock she continued to wait. The flock came at sunset to dive for fish scraps that Johnny threw from his boat. The child grew wings and waited. When the flock lifted into the sky something in her lifted with them. Something in her cried out. Something saw the earth from above. Something must stay wild, must never be tamed, must ride the wind, must never know a cage, must not exchange freedom for safety.

The temptation to safety is constant. I call it temptation not because safety is somehow evil. It is a necessity for productive life. Children need safety to develop a sense of inner security. It is mystic consciousness that requires the wild, and children often experience a foretaste of this truth.

There may be a time before reason sets in that we receive an intimation of a larger world existing on the other side of the wild spaces that is more truly safe than anything this limited world can provide. It cries from within like the cry of a gull. It seduces. It feels like something radically Other. But it cries from within and from without simultaneously. This is the moment that the soul grows wings.

She grew wings and soared,
Peering into swamps and bogs,
Spruce islands floating
On unmeasured deeps,
Illusions of stability.
She called
And a gull’s voice
Haunted the sky.