While most of the country sweltered in the heat, we spent the past week in Cape May keeping an eye out for flying beach umbrellas.  The flap-flapping of a beach full of umbrellas is relaxing until one decides to take off à la Mary Poppins.  A suddenly launching umbrella can be like a jousting pole when it is headed right for you.   Everyone leaps to the rescue, as much out of neighborliness as in self-defense.  It gets you wondering about the types of emergencies a shore hospital deals with.

Laughing Gull

The wind was sometimes problematic for umbrellas, but a delight to seagulls.  One afternoon a group of Laughing Gulls played in the breeze.  At first, they looked like little white aircraft with black nosecones and black wing tips divebombing the beach.  Little stealth bombers they might be to their airborne predators and seabound prey.  From below, except for face and wingtips, they were pure white.   But the tops of their wings were grey artfully shading to black.  They would blend in with the slate grey ocean.  The artistry of their coloring was most appreciated when they were in flight.

This afternoon, they were not fishing or out for a toddler’s sandwich; they were playing in the wind, leaning into it and trying to stay still, motionless in space.  Then, they would let go and let the wind carry them wherever, just soaring.  They weren’t flying so much as floating, delighting in the air.   Watching them felt like floating in the ocean, rising and falling with the water, making minimal body adjustments to stay put without drifting, or riding a wave all the way to shore.  Oh, to be as free in the air as those gulls!

Seagull negotiating for Hanny's breakfast

One morning a gull perched on the railing of our ocean-front porch.  We were eating breakfast–eggs, bacon, English muffins.  He clearly wanted some and was willing to patiently wait for an unguarded plate.  My mother was so impressed with his patience that she wanted to reward him with a piece of muffin.  Was she crazy?  Did she want that bird there every morning?  She grew up at the shore.  She knows that a gull will steal the food right out of your hand if you’re not careful.  After sitting there long enough for me to take a bazillion photos of him, he took off.  Without breakfast.

A couple of days later, I prepared my post-beach snack to enjoy on the porch.  As vacationers next door sipped cocktails on the porch of the elegant Peter Shields Inn, I set out my cheese and crackers and stepped inside to retrieve my gin-and-tonic.  Suddenly, a flapping of wings caught my attention.  That daggone bird had sent invitations to all his friends and they were descending on my snack!  In a flash, I ran onto the porch, squawking and flapping my arms.

“Hey!  Hey!  Get out, you stupid birds!  Shoo!”

One of them took off with a cracker.  The rest flew away to perches on street lamps and laughed at me.

“Arrh!  Arrh!  Arrh!”

I may not have let them have breakfast, but I provided them with some entertainment, and probably entertained the guests at Peter Shields, too.

So now I’m home in my air-conditioning while catydids chirp in the heat.  Back at the shore the seagulls are soaring, and thieving, and laughing their way through the tourist season.