On the other side of a translucent glass membrane, a membrane breaking up the opacity and channeling the outside world, our autotrophic forefathers, their mathematical symmetries reified as branches of the tree of life, beckon. Or they most likely hadn’t beckoned; however, there is little one can do in defying the urge to put one’s hind limbs to the task of walking us out to convene with them – and so it happened that in the time it takes for a single Clostridium perfringens bacterial cell to divide, the space on the other side of the membrane had been filled by something extra – me.
This set of events lead to another set of events, as sets of events are wont to do, and there, on a muddy patch with little tufts of green hair sticking out, upright like they had just suffered from hypothermia or perhaps felt some compulsion to respond to the music of the rains, two orange webbed feet, and two orange bills stand in sharp contrast against the brown patch and green tufts.
Several blurs of other colors – blues, purples, blacks, greys, walk hastily to their destinations, some with a stern expression on their faces, lines for mouths, and some chattering away animatedly with their situational companions. It is quiet despite the flurry of activity. The seagulls are situated outside the frame of any other goings – on in the background.
I’ve always found them fascinating, not as paragons of thievery (it’s all about perspective, and I can see why some people might be annoyed) but as beautiful seabirds with a perspicacity so acute, it feels like one could never hope to win an argument against a gull. They don’t care about you, for the most part, unless you’re armed with potato wedges or fish fingers. But, regardless, I stand hunched with my palms pressed against my knees, keeping a respectful distance in order not to startle them. Of course, in acts such as this, there is always an element of risking some self consciousness for me, initially at least.
It seems more plausible, though, that people give the thoughts in their head or the future happenings of the day more precedence, even if they notice. Either way, I taught myself not to care – perhaps in the same nonchalant way that seagulls don’t.
A seagull’s interiority, the associations we make with it and the attributes we project onto it, are, however, the products of our subjective assemblages – every act of seeing is in some sense, an act of discovery or, as the researcher Félix Schoeller describes in the Aeon Mag article “Psychogenic Shivers,” “one is constantly discovering a visual field, everything you feel, you feel for the first time, and perception is exploration.” The deep pursuit of understanding seagull consciousness, in that case, can only spring out of the study of its behaviors and perhaps connecting it to its neurophysiology. That being said, however, doesn’t take away from what poetry or the imagination, for that matter, can do in describing something in the realm of probability; the abstract has a melange of things to contribute – in something as supposedly concrete as mathematics but also literature, poetry, music and so on.
Their web – like feet oranged and flowed into the larger streamlined body of white, some grey on the wings and a touch of black at the rear end. A soft ring of orange skirts the roundish eyes – as if drawn on, and it looks like the orange has annexed more real estate by also forming the protuberance that is the bill – an extra appendage of sorts, the shape of which often points to the bird’s feeding habits.
At first, they move around erratically on the balding patch but soon settle into a rhythm. A tiny pat pat followed by another, gently coaxing and prodding the soil to release her wormy friends. The gentle pats have increased in tempo in no time, and something resembling a tap dance commences. The two seagulls tap away to their rhythms, pausing now and then to peck at the ground. Tap-tap tap-tap tap-pat-tap tap tap-peck. Concealed below the layers of soil, little worms imagining that it is the rains squirm and wriggle themselves out, only to find themselves in the beaks of the seagulls and eventually nourishing its being. An ingenious tactic they’ve employed in procuring a meal! It’s fairly common, this action of simulating the vibrations of raindrops by tapping feet, but observing it for the first time, the wonder of it all, that “sense of first sight unencumbered by knowingness” as Michael Pollan says in his book, ‘Botony of Desire’- is something incredible. Perhaps, it is because they are birds that I even notice; they’ve always been fascinating; there are several other wondrous things about nature that I probably miss while I’m out on my stroll. But it’s okay because other people will see it, soak in the awe for a while and maybe write about it or make videos/documentaries about it for other people to read or watch. So that they may get a notion of what it feels like but mostly so that it can convey the astounding ways in which nature can play itself out a self – conducted orchestra, in which humans might be playing off – tune lately. Mostly because we imagine we don’t sound discordant in the first place, what will it take to get some distance from ourselves and see the disharmony?
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Author: Anushikha Bhas
Science Writing, University of Exeter, Karate
Illustration/Photograhy: TDLM Design Team