St. Francis of Summer
by Audrey Y. Scharmen
The small girl, her eyes reflecting the sea beyond, sits amid the maze of sand castles and moats she has created on this sullen summer morning. Above the boardwalk, kites in glorious colors gasp for air; and in the far distance she sees the faint outline of a Ferris wheel so tall that one can see all the way across to England. A sign says so.
Her older cousins have grown bored with the castles and left her for the surf. She watches them slither like seals in the bottle-green shallows where a sand bar stretches.
All around her is a vast, gaudy carpet of sun-baked bathers as far as the eye can see.
And everywhere are the gulls. Ubiquitous birds of the coastal summer. Crowds of crying, restless things. Many, gray and grizzled old men; few, fresh and new. Charming panhandlers; shopping-center gulls who forsake marshes of grass and mallows for the largesse of beach and boardwalk.
All morning they have milled about the little girl's castles, stalking her pet hermit crabs, staying always out of reach. But there is one who lingers close, young and new as she, not beachwise. He wears a stunning black cap and orange bill, delicately curved. He is white and shiny as satin. His eyes are sparkling onyx.
She is a child of Nature, with sea-eyes and sun-burnished skin golden as a pecan's shell. She has grown up with country roads and intuitively knows already, at the tender age of seven, where to find the first violets, ripe wine-berries and fairy-rings of morels -- and how to rig a sling for a crippled chicken. Hers is a deep respect for the small creatures of her world.
She is one with this gull whom she closely watches. He is likely (in bird years) the same age as she. There is a bond and she covets him, longs to pick him up and pet him. But he moves quickly, gingerly away. Thus she plots to accomplish the feat.
Nearby is her cup of French fries, grown cold and sandy, a favorite of beach birds. She spreads a sodden towel across her lap, covering all but her head, and lays a path of fries from the edge of the towel to a spot where her hands are hidden. And she sits still as a statue while the bird gradually shortens the path. Eventually, he follows the trail to its end and right into her arms, where she wraps him carefully and cradles him gently and carries him back to the cottage.
She and her excited clutch of cousins, talking all at once, recount the story of the capture as they hand him happily to me where I sit on a porch in a patch of pink mallows. With a sense of wonder, we pass him from one to another. He is calm and friendly with that innate trust of the very young. He shows us his lovely red, pointed tongue, and we marvel at his fragility. Tough little sea bird, sleek as a rose petal, weightless as down.
With a gentle nudge, the child releases him, reaching high as her short arms allow. And we clap and cheer as he rises jubilant on shining wings from out of the mallow.
Nature has indeed bared her soul to us all, and our hearts soar along with the gull -- over the alley and the steep rooftops of weathered old clapboard houses and to the sea.
-Contributor Audrey Scharmen is grandmother of Marta and the clutch of cousins.
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Volume VI Number 33
August 20-26, 1998
New Bay Times
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