Tag Archives: Nature

The Battle of the Gull

The Saga of Spring Break: Part 2

As you may recall, last week found our heroes trapped by their own desires in a mansion of phallic proportions. They may have set out for nothing more than unabashed revelry, but in its place, they encountered a most difficult challenge. This week, in the exciting conclusion to our two-part saga, the unsuspecting crew of the cliff-side palace will face a trial the likes of which they have never before seen. Instead of coming to terms with a giant pecker, they’ll have to survive an onslaught of little ones.


We’re sitting in six deck chairs, wedged expertly between the pool and the glass guard rail, enjoying both the beautiful ocean view and some delicious hangover burritos, when suddenly it sounds like something fun is happening inside. Maybe the girls are having that pillow fight I’d been daydreaming about. Or maybe it’s just Drive By playing on loop again or people throwing up everywhere—who knows?

The decision to go investigate was not an easy one. After all, these are San Diego burritos we’re talking about. Whether it’s juicy, lardy carnitas smothered in fresh guacamole, or greasy, melted cheese dripping over carne asada and french fries, you know that while your heart and stomach may hate you, your tongue will be enraptured.  Every time I journey home, I eat an average of two burritos per day, and no matter how sick from them I get, I never get sick of them. Still, the potential for fun eventually outweighs our hunger, and we set down our food to go join in.

A foolish mistake!

Nanoseconds after the food is abandoned, the seagulls that had been hovering above our palace seize their opportunity and swoop in with calculated Machiavellianism! I could hardly blame them—San Diego burritos—but neither could I allow the slight to go unpunished. As the first person to notice the impending horror of total burrito loss, I sprint outside, flapping my arms wildly and yelling in the manner I instinctively sense will be most intimidating to seagulls.

Apparently my instincts are too good, because the birds scatter like feathers in a sorority-girl pillow fight. That is, all save one, an adolescent male (I like to imagine) who has found himself pinned between a semi-circle of chairs and every birds’ ultimate bane: a panel of glass. The see-through fence that had kept us from plummeting to our deaths all week is now preventing this poor creature from reverse plummeting to freedom. And yet, sure that nothing more than empty air lies in front of him, the seagull takes off, ramming his head full-force into the glass wall. He is knocked backward with a resounding DONG, but that deters him not at all. Again, he rams it. And again! Again! Again!

Whereas once I had been enraged by the seagull’s insolence, I now find myself pitying the dimwitted creature. There it was, entrapped by a cage it could neither see nor damage. I could almost sense its thoughts: if I can just ram it hard enough, the magic maintaining this accursed force field will be broken! Or more likely: Caw. Caw! Caw caw! Its wings flap wildly, and with every smack, it becomes visibly more shaken and disoriented.

I know I have to help this bird. After all, I am a nature god. But how?!

At this point, my cousin Evan joins me outside and is witness to the self-inflicted destruction of this bird’s skull. The two of us start frantically pulling chairs out of the way to give the gull room to take off, but the pool is right behind us and without tossing the chairs into it, our minor adjustments prove ineffective. Plus, no matter how much room we give the thing, it remains utterly certain that with just one more try, it will be able to defeat the accumulated human knowledge of polymer construction. Sure, the magic barrier has stopped it the last 27 times it tried to take off, but no force is more powerful than that of obstinance, and no substance is thicker than a seagull’s skull.

I realize that there’s only one way this bird is escaping: if I can hoist it over the fence. Eschewing any real forethought, I reach in to grab the thing, but that just scares the shit out of it.

Literally. As soon as I touch its wing, it sprays poop all over the place, the splash damage just barely missing my foot. Now freed from the burden of its bowels, it proceeds to expertly smack its head into a fence some more.

I take a step back and perform a few monkey-level calculations. A tool! That’s what I need! And then I see it: the pool scooper. Just because it’s meant to scoop pools doesn’t mean it can’t also scoop gulls. I’m going to have to wield it with expert jabsmenship to pull off this delicate operation, but unfortunately, my tool, while not lacking in the long steel rod department, has a slightly-smaller-than-gull sized net. Also, I don’t have a lot of practice at scooping demented birds.

I brandish my new implement of animal-targeted kindness, waiting for the gull to perform another leap-smack (every time it tries to take off, it clears the ground by about two inches, so I simply have to slide the scooper underneath its feet during that brief window. Easy.) Leap, smack! Damn, I miss it. Another smack!

Boom! I’ve got the scooper under the bird. It’s working! I’m lifting this frantic, gyrating mass of a creature into the air as effortlessly as everyone who wasn’t Arthur lifted that sword out of the stone. It’s writhing and struggling and leaping and cawing and flapping and generally making my task pretty much impossible. I take a moment to dwell on how ungrateful this adolescent avian is, but then I realize that I was probably the same way at that age and return to my task with renewed vigor. Still, I’m unsuccessful. You wouldn’t expect a four-pound bird to be able to throw me off balance, so you clearly don’t have a lot of practice scooping demented birds either.

All the flailing proves too much for even my expert gull-balancing skills, and the bird flops off. Now reduced to a wobbling feather-clump of sheer terror by his over-exciting ride on the demon stick, this bird takes a break from the head-ramming to puke out its guts, which mostly contained this one half-digested fish. It was really rather pretty, the way its scales shimmered in the sunlight and its body ended in a bloody, undigested cluster of muscle instead of a head.

But I wasn’t about to let a little regurgitated fish remnants faze me. I go back to scooper-thrust round two, but before I can pull it off, I notice a cacophonous chorus of cawing. There! In the sky! Dozens of circling gulls, enraged that we’ve captured their companion. Hopes that they were all swarming to devour the free half-fish on the deck are quickly quashed as they swoop narrowly above our heads in an effort to scare us away from our presumed prey. Don’t they understand that I just want to help?

They don’t.

And their primary offensive weapon is the tried-and-true method of consta-shitting.

That special bird mixture of urine and feces rains from the sky all around me; the seagull rams his head into the wall; Evan cries out in fear and delight; the heavens ring with the chatter of enraged beasts; the waves crash against the cliffs beneath me; it’s all aligning just like that fortune teller said, and I know that if I do not solve this seagull situation now, things may turn out very badly.

For a moment, I’m on the verge of giving up, but Evan delivers a rousing speech and the two of us sprint through the ever-falling barrage of bird poop and get back in position. With one final thrust, I manage to snake the scooper underneath the gull, and, sensing victory, I hoist him into the air as fast as I can. We’re going to make it!

But with a furious flop, the gull slides sideways. I try to maintain my hold, but alas, I cannot. The bird topples to his left, rolling among the chairs, shit splatters next to me, splashing the fish remnants—but wait, he’s somersaulted beyond the last chair!

There are no more obstacles! With a wobbly step, the gull rights himself, looks to the sky, and takes off!

I brandish my scooper at the remaining seagull strike force and shoo them away, every inch looking like a half-mad hippie lashing out against unseen sky demons when his true enemy is the quantity of hallucinogens in his bloodstream. Yes, it is another victory for the nature god.

And the whole thing was witnessed by our 85-year-old neighbor, this tiny old lady who was talking on the phone until her jaw dropped in wonder at the sight of our struggle. Once the seagull was safely away, she asked in the scratchy, pitchy, lilting voice of an old person, “How did you get them to do that?”

“We left food out here,” we responded stoically, as if that could explain the experience we had just had. But Evan and I knew better. We knew we had narrowly avoided the fortune teller’s curse, but it would be back.

It would be back.


Filed under Stories

I Am a Nature God!

For the record, all of these animal encounters are 100% true.

Do you ever step outside, only to get the feeling that mother nature has it out for you, and, like the villain of a bad mystery novel, is bent on exacting only the most unexpected forms of revenge? I once felt that way. Every journey into the great outdoors was an offensive into a hostile environment filled with petal-covered trebuchets launching pollen spores at my sinuses.

I’ve collapsed from heat stroke and hypothermia, battled off armies of ticks, and nearly been struck by lightning. Cats have scratched me, birds have pooped on me, and skunks have sprayed me. Bees of both the common and bumble variety have pumped their poison into my flesh, and every time I go to Sea World I get the distinct impression that the fish are leering at me.

I began to fear nature at a very young age when some decidedly unpatriotic Raccoons laid waste to my green plastic army men. I used to love arranging those guys into epic battles between imagined nations. But one night I left my troops in a particularly dramatic tableau, and when I woke up, I found that neither The United States of Awesome nor Soviet Russ were any match for the great nation of Raccoon.

As time passed and I grew up, Nature began to raise the stakes. Every summer, unable to resist the water’s clarion call, I’d venture  into the  sea, only to be stung by literally hundreds of Jellyfish, apparently hell-bent on irritating my calves.

But one jellyfish is ruler of them all: The Portuguese Man of War. It’s a massive array of blue tentacles, topped with a purple, nightmarish Mohawk, and filled with enough deadly venom to kill a small yak. I’d never given the creature much thought, but one day, when I was snorkeling through the pristine Hawaiian waters, I suddenly found my neck wrapped in tentacles.

I flailed about, managing to informatively sputter “I am inside a jellyfish!” Driven, undoubtedly, by anti-poison instincts, I tore at the tentacles with my bare hands, ripping through them as if they were mere strands of gelatinous creature-parts, then high-tailed it for shore. The rest of the day was spent icing down the huge red welt trails that made it look as if I’d befallen some mishap whilst enjoying a bit of sadomasochism.

The attacks didn’t stop as I grew older. On a visit to Alcatraz, I was repeatedly dive-bombed by a fury-gull, either because I’d inadvertently gotten too close to her nest or because she was a prisoner reincarnate, displeased that I was desecrating the jail grounds of her past life. On a canoeing trip down the Colorado river, I got 48 mosquito bites in a single night, despite being covered in head-to-toe netting and repeatedly coating myself in noxious waves of bug repellant. My best friend only got 2, neither of which was on his eyelid. And once, during a solar eclipse, Fire Ants swarmed me, perhaps incensed that I had blotted out their god.

And just last spring, at the opening of X-Men: First Class, I was bitten by a black widow. I didn’t find out that that was the creature responsible until the week after, however. I only felt a tingling on my unguarded toe, and when I tried to scratch it, (unknowingly angering the spider that had made my foot his new residence), I found myself in excruciating pain. In the name of cinema, I did my best to ignore it.

But by the next morning, my foot had swollen to twice its normal size, I had the poison shakes, and my temperature was a healthy 103. I had to cancel my second ever Vegas trip, and since the movie was on a Friday afternoon, I couldn’t go to a doctor until Monday.

In the end, I concluded I’d been bitten during the wrong superhero movie. If it had starred Peter Parker instead of Beast, maybe I would’ve ended up with the ability to stick to walls instead of having giant blue feet.

But back to the list.

A Squirrel bit me while I was feeding it, prompting my mom to hysterically demand I be tested for rabies, Kookaburras are always laughing at me, and once a Coyote stole an entire pie from me on a camping trip!

For years, I was sure that nature had it out for me, that no matter what I did, the creatures of the world would conspire with clicks, chirps, and roars to rain down on me as many bites and stings as possible.

But I had it all wrong, you see. Nature doesn’t hate me. It loves me!


You may think it’s just the leftover venom coursing through my veins talking, but for the first time I’m finally seeing things clearly. Pollen wants to party in my sinuses. The sun wants to caress me the only ray it knows how, and the raccoons thought they were defending me from an enemy army. It all makes so much sense!

If you were a skunk and all you had to offer was your spray, would you not gladly give it up to prove your devotion? Would not the bees break off their stingers in my skin, an insectoid sacrifice in honor of their lord? The Man of War was giving me a tentacle-y hug, and Mosquitoes merely think they’re following doctrine when they drink my blood. I bet they even go home and eat wafers afterward.

I was so focused on the hurts nature had enacted upon me that I forgot the joy of it all. I forgot the time that Blue Jay landed in my hand and chattered away happily as though life were a Disney film. I forgot the feeling of catching a wave beside a playful Dolphin, of petting a Cat curled happily on my lap, and of hiking through the woods, light sprinkling the forest floor with half-obscured rays that shine through the dancing leaves of the trees.

For every horrific encounter, there’s the time I was surrounded by a kaleidoscope of Monarch Butterflies passing through on their annual migration, or the night I swam in the Red Tide,  the trails of my strokes aglow with surreal blue light.

Why else would a Guinea pig have made a pilgrimage to my house, if not to choose me as a master? Why else would a South African Turaco appear in my neighborhood, if not to delight us with its exotic songs? Why else, on that rainy night when I took shelter beneath the arches of a church, did hundreds of bats encircle me, wings glinting in the moonlight?

Like the rain god from So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, I am forever cursed with the unwavering love of the creatures of the world, and no matter how much I try to deny the truth, I will never be able to rebuke their devotional bites and stings.

So I might as well embrace it. Next time I see a bear, I think I’ll go say hi.


Filed under Stories