We spent a lot of time aboard Sotito making sure their food didn’t have a chance to go bad, nor need storing as leftovers. One evening, we dined out and have a delicious meal at DeWolf’s Tavern, a beautifully restored colonial warehouse on the waterfront (the building's dark past includes it as a key stop in the slave triangle). We love the company of Robin and Andy, and the meal was first rate.
On our return to the dinghy for the ride home, we noticed that the same seagull was still sitting on the dock from when we landed hours before. When we arrived, he didn’t seem too afraid of us and we tried to give him his space so he wouldn’t be spooked from his spot. Now he seemed noticeably more lethargic. I know that most birds will use every ounce of strength they have to appear healthy in order to avoid rejection by the flock the loss of their protection. Once a bird no longer has the energy to keep from looking weak, they are usually in very poor shape.
I gingerly approached him and he watched me intently, but only made the most half-hearted effort to appear to stand up. I was able to crouch down right next to him and put my hands over his wings to keep him from flying away. Maryanne noticed a smudge on his neck that looked like a wound that had recently stopped bleeding. I picked him up and carried him into some better light to try to see what had happened. It looked like he had been snagged by a fishhook. It was too hard to see in the dark and I didn’t want to traumatize the poor thing any further by poking around, so we decided to leave him alone and hope the healing process worked out naturally.
We got about a hundred feet before I couldn’t take it any more and turned back. I just couldn’t let him suffer if there was something we could do about it. When we got back, I picked him up and climbed into the dinghy with him. Maryanne steered us back to Begonia while I sat with the seagull on my lap. He occasionally tried a couple of feeble pecks at me, but mostly he just sat quietly while I stroked the feathers on his head.
Back at Begonia, we set up the cockpit with better lighting and Maryanne equipped me with surgical tools. Actually, they were the engine tools, the same ones she has been dying to practice her first aid with on me. I figured I’d use the wire cutters to cut off the barb and maybe some needle-nosed pliers as forceps to remove the rest of the hook. Then we would give the wound a good cleaning and disinfecting, top him up with food and water and send him on his way to let nature take its course.
When I got a closer look at things, I was horrified at what I saw. Instead of being punctured by a single hook from the outside, he had swallowed a three-pronged hook. Two of the barbs had come through his neck to the outside. The third unseen one would have been facing backwards toward his spinal column. There was no way we could get the hook out. I couldn’t imagine a way even a vet could cut the hook out without completely destroying his neck. I had to come to the sickening conclusion that this poor bird, otherwise big and beautifully healthy, had a terrible piece of luck and was now mortally wounded. My heart just sank.
We talked about taking him back to the spot where we found him, but eventually decided it would be best to leave him aboard. I was worried someone would try to shoo him off or kick him into the water, not realizing he didn’t have the strength left to fly away.
Maryanne provided it with a bowl of water and opened a can of tuna which he greedily lapped up the juice of (like he hadn’t eaten in days). He clearly wanted the bigger chunks, but couldn’t handle getting them past the hook. We left it for him to pick at along with a nest we made out of clean shop rags, which we placed on a high stern step. I put him in it and said goodbye, trying my best to convey that I was sorry I couldn’t do more.
In the morning, Maryanne and I discussed what to do with the remains. We decided a “burial at sea” was probably the most seagull appropriate. The problem was that the hook was going to be an issue for the next creature in the food chain. We would have to do a nasty piece of butchery to remove it before sending him on his way.
When I went outside, I was surprised to find him looking at me. He was still alive and conscious, but getting weaker. We decided to just let him be, since there wasn’t anything we could do and we didn’t want to stress him out.
Throughout the day, he hung on and would occasionally muster the strength to stand up and move a foot or two to get out of the sun before plopping down with an unrestrained thud. Every now and then, I would walk over and give his head a little scratch, which he didn’t seem to mind at all.
As the day wore on, he continued to weaken, but he kept holding on. We were starting to worry that his death was unnecessarily slow and painful. After much hand wringing, we decided to put the poor thing out of his misery. Neither one of us wanted to do it, but we both knew it was the humane thing to do. We stalled for a while debating one method over another until we decided that beheading him chicken-style would be quickest and easiest not to botch (while being careful not to impale ourselves on the hook in the process).
I sharpened our big chopping knife until it was razor sharp, and then I psyched myself up for it. Maryanne and I went over it one more time: She would hold down his head with a towel over his eyes, I would cut fast and hard so it would count, being sure to get below the hook.
Kyle spends little time at home, and seems to be always coming to, going to, or at work. Of course he can't refuse an animal in need either, no matter what the obvious heartbreak ending to the story
When all was ready, I went to go get the poor bird. Instead of letting me walk right up to him and touch him as he had the twenty times before, this time he got to his feet when I was still three feet away (I had left the knife behind). I took another step and he opened his wings. There was enough of a breeze that with the slightest hop, he was airborne. He cleared the lifelines, landed in the water next to the boat and folded his wings. He didn’t even have to flap. Over the next ten minutes, the wind and current blew him ashore near one of the private beach houses.
I was relieved I didn’t have to kill him, although I knew his situation was no different. He would still die soon and in pain. I briefly debated chasing him down in the dinghy, but Maryanne convinced me to consider it his choice to die his way, and maybe to save me the angst of having to be part of it. Besides, he was on private property now. I had no right to be there.
Watching through the binoculars, I saw him wade ashore. He would walk a few steps and sit down to rest for a few minutes, walk and sit. When I last saw him, he was disappearing into the woods. Poor guy.
[Maryanne]On a much lighter note, I have been experiencing Bristol and the surrounds as Kyle is off at work. I'm so lucky to have Robin and Andy around, not only are they great company, but they are very generous with their time and assist with grocery store runs, and so much more - they make my life so much easier and WAY more fun.
They have been taking me for day outings about in their boat, and sharing their friends with me, I've been to the local Sakonnet Vinyard for tastings (surprisingly great), and the farmers markets for some fantastic produce. Life is good (depressing sea gull stories aside).
As for Bristol itself, it is a small town, the big grocery store is a little too far to walk (and has hills involved), but the main down-town area is beautiful, full of interesting stores and plenty of bars, but not at all rowdy nor crowded. There is also the Colt State Park, comprising of stunning grounds and beaches once belonging to the Colt family (of Colt gun fame) My favorite place so far in Bristol (simply because I find it always makes me smile) is a corner of town where there is ALWAYS a large group of retired guys hanging out (complete with public benches and plastic chairs for the regular overflow). For I while I happily just chuckled and admired their friendly gatherings (so very Mediterranean), but I was made completely happy when I came across the plaque fixed at the corner - a corner officially known to the National Historic land registry as "Loafers' corner" - now what better place to loaf I ask?
One of the Colt Park entrance adornments (a pair of life size bulls flank the main gate), and of course the smile inspiring (official) Loafers' corner