A lone seagull floats easily over the calm water, rising and falling on the unseasonably small waves between storms. His bright white head, free of dirty gray streaks, highlights his maturity among his kind. He’s alone, yet unbothered by his solitude. Peacefully, he coasts slowly northward atop a royal blue sea on a cold winter afternoon.
A quarter mile away, a churning flock of his brethren flip and flap above the creek. It is chaos: blurred wings, screeching heard the length of the beach, birds on the water, birds in the air, birds in constant, frenetic motion. They’re busy, every one of them. But busy with what, I can’t tell.
The sun is gold on the horizon. The breeze streaming down from the eastern hills is cold. Tomorrow’s storm appears in the distance, a dark wall of gray rising north of the setting sun. The seagull is unconcerned.
He pauses briefly when I stop to pull out my notebook. Does he wait for me? Probably not, but I imagine a kindred spirit, another soul seeking quiet and calm amid the season’s frenzy. For him, this solitary swim is a moment between storms and raging surf, away from the daily squabble for food and shelter necessary to survive the harsh winter. For me, the solitude of the beach pulls me away from the activity and noise and chaos and crowds and stress that have come to mark our American Christmas.
“Alone among others.” It’s a phrase I stumbled across in a book a couple years ago, and one that could be the pithy caption under my grainy black and white photo in life’s yearbook. In career, home and community, I am surrounded by others. Yet, increasingly, mostly by choice, and especially in this season, I enjoy my own company more than the camaraderie of the crowd. The world swirls around me, and the faster it swirls, the more I seek solitude.
In the couple of minutes I’ve paused to scribble these notes and chill my fingertips, the seagull has vanished. There’s no sign of him on the water or in the sky. The seagull flock flutters in the distance, their wings flashing white in the reflection of the setting sun. Perhaps he’s joined them. Maybe two proved too much a crowd for him.
As much as I want to imagine the gull as a spirit or heavenly metaphor intended for my personal reflection, I realize it’s mere coincidence. The cosmos don’t work that way. Still, it’s heartening to know that the search for quiet and solitude is not mine alone. It’s part of the way things work. For each of us, there comes a time to be together and a time to be alone.