At no point in my adult life have I devoted significant mental energy to contemplating how to catch a seagull. Never, that is, until I found myself discussing this very question with some newfound friends at the beach one Sunday afternoon in early August. It turned out that not only had they captured a seagull in the past, but they were willing to try it again. There was even a teenage boy (let’s call him Hamish), eager to make the attempt. My sole job was to observe from a respectful distance and take scrupulous mental notes.
Here's how it's done: first, Hamish selected a part of the beach with few humans, especially of the junior variety who like to run around screaming. Ensuring that there were sufficient seagulls in sight, both airborne and waddling along the sand, he scooped out a shallow trench more or less the same length as himself, and lay down in it. Taking a large towel, he covered himself from feet to chin. Both arms lay cunningly concealed beneath the towel. One arm sneaked out, bearing a succulent morsel of leftover foodstuff designed to titillate a seagull's taste buds into paroxysms of delight (in this case, the remains of a chicken wing with just a hint of Alfredo sauce), and placed it on the towel, right over Hamish’s stomach.
Now came the hard part: we waited. And waited. And while we waited, (it being rather a hot afternoon,) my lunchtime beer kicked in and I began to fantasize. Suppose we get lucky, I thought; suppose a gull spies the morsel with its beady eye, and swoops down to claim it as its own. The moment for action has arrived! Like a coiled viper, Hamish unfurls his betoweled arms and seizes the hapless bird in his steely embrace. He has our seagull!
Okay, so now what? What exactly does one do with this very unhappy captive bird, whose mighty beak is thrashing around, inches away from Hamish’s eyeballs—eat it? Sorry, seagull pie is out of the question: when asked by a journalist why seagull meat never put in an appearance on the daily menu, a Devon fisherman replied in his broad West Country drawl, “If ‘ee puts a seagull int’ oven wi’ a brick, th’ brick ‘ud be done first, and it’d taaste better.”
Perhaps it could be tamed and kept as a pet! I looked up “domesticate” in the massive dictionary (which, thanks to the marvels of the common cell phone, I just happened to have with me) and found that the process of domestication generally involves such a close association with human beings that the animal loses its fondness for living in the wild. One look into that flashing eye, one ear-piercing, raucous shriek, one moment’s contemplation of their disgusting personal habits that make them about as desirable a pet as an airborne dung beetle, and I was convinced—there would be no seagull perched in my kitchen, screeching incessantly, taking enormous pecks out of any human foolish enough to venture within striking range, making vast, splashy messes of fishy-stinky seagull poop all over the floor . . .
My reverie was cut short by Joe’s return. Dusting sand off himself, he admitted defeat: perhaps there had been one too many children running on the beach; perhaps it was the wrong brand of Alfredo sauce; perhaps the birds simply weren’t in the mood . . . Whatever the reason, the seagull-capturing quest had proved a failure.
And I couldn’t honestly say I was sorry.