Two if by sea

By Kris Ferrazzza | Aug 30, 2019

The floor of my car is full of sand. My steering wheel smells like Hawaiian Tropic.

And aluminum chairs rattle in the back anytime I hit a bump.

These are the things that say summer to me. When Elizabeth was a baby, the salt air, crashing surf and wide-open stretch of sand was an escape from the routine at home. There was no Elmo blaring on the TV, no laundry to fold, no dishes to wash and nobody at the door. The beach gave us a change of scenery and soothed my rattled, new-mom nerves.

She could feel it, too, I knew. Even her crankiest days dissolved if I could “just add water.” My daughter and I have never had a bad day at the beach. There is no such thing. We embraced the sun, felt calmed by the breeze and always left tired and happy.

As she grew, I worried this would change. Each year brought new bathing suits, another growth spurt, and different interests. But even as her height more than quadrupled and her bathing suit styles transformed, that carefree feeling remained.

After 13 years, the friends we’ve brought, snacks we’ve packed, heck, even the beach gear, has hardly changed. And the feeling we get while trekking from the car to the sand, loaded up with bags and umbrellas, has kept its magic. With the salt air filling our lungs, it’s exhilarating to hear the surf and smell the beach roses.

Only one thing has changed: the greedy gulls have become a menace to society. In our early years, I don’t even remember thinking about seagulls bothering us, let alone stealing our lunch. Boy, has that changed.

I remember the first time I heard someone say they had lost their lunch to the beach bandits. A friend was eating a sandwich, when the bird swiped the entire thing from her and bit her lip. I was incredulous and laughed. She insisted it was entirely true and not one bit funny. She had been traumatized. A few weeks later I was relating her story to another friend who insisted the same thing had happened to her. I was astonished.

Then my eyes were opened to this phenomenon. I started to see it everywhere. Seagulls stealing entire bags of Doritos from beach bags, shaking them out onto the sand and having a party. Seagulls perched like sentries on the roof of the snack shacks, just waiting for a chance to snag a lobster roll, burger or doughboy from an unsuspecting child or adult.

The struggle is real, I’ll admit. And while I’ve yet to personally be robbed of my beach snacks, I’ve been a witness to it more times than I can count.

One July 4th my family went to Popham Beach. Before long, we reached into the cooler for lunch. My husband was about to take a bite of a turkey sandwich when a lone seagull flew straight toward the back of his head like a 747. I pointed in disbelief and said, “Um, uh ... honey?”

It was too late. The bird perched momentarily atop his head and tried to snatch the sandwich from his mouth. Instead of letting go, my husband clutched the bread tight and yanked. The bird left without its prize.

“Do not eat that,” I gasped, wide-eyed, knowing the bird’s beak had touched the sandwich.

My guy looked at it, shrugged and took a big bite. We were still laughing when a shadow fell over us. The bird was back. It defecated on my husband’s chair and then flew to parts unknown. What a spiteful, dirty bird. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.

That was just the beginning. After that day, it seemed anytime we went to the beach, we saw gangs of marauding gulls working together to steal people’s picnics. It became a hobby to watch how far people would go to outsmart the birds, and how clever the birds were.

After countless hours on the beach analyzing this behavior and watching these mini-dramas unfold, Elizabeth and I started to feel like experts in the field. One day we were waxing poetic to a friend about how they operate and how to foil them.

My method is simple. Food stays in the cooler, zipped up tight, until it’s time to eat. Eating happens under an umbrella, period. And even then, we are on the lookout. That’s my three-step plan. So far, so good.

My friends have not been so lucky. Many of them don’t like to carry an umbrella to the beach. I get it. So they take their chances. A rookie mom was eating fries while her son munched a hot dog in the open on our blanket. Big mistake. We tried to warn them as three gulls walked innocently around us. Clearly they planned to strike.

“If you look,” I lectured, “There is one at 9 o’clock, one at 12 o’clock, and one at 3 o’clock.”

Sure enough, the gulls were spaced out perfectly at their posts, eyeing the fast food and then trying to look casually around, pretending to wander aimlessly.

Our friends started shoving food into their mouths as fast as possible. The faster they ate, the more casual the gulls looked.

“Everybody keep an eye on them,” Lizzy warned. “If we each watch one, we’ll have them outnumbered.”

Just then, the most incredible thing happened. A fourth seagull, who had gone completely undetected by us, flew straight at them from 6 o’clock, coming in low and fast across the water. While his accomplices had distracted us perfectly on the beach, the fourth bird was the thief. He came from the sea. Pandemonium broke out with our friends flailing, fries dropping in the sand and a half-eaten hot dog lost forever.

Well played, seagulls. Lesson learned.

A few days ago my fellow beach bums and I were relaxing when I heard a sound. A seagull was pulling a Hannaford bag out from under a beach chair in front of us. He then proceeded to yank a shirt out of the top of the bag, which clearly had been placed there by an amateur to make the picnic “gull-proof.”

Seagulls know we do this. They have all day to watch beach-goers. They know the chips are in the bag right under the sweatshirt, people.

That seagull was just about to claim its prize when the lady next to us dropped her book and charged him. The seagull flew away, and I went back to dozing until I heard another sound. I looked behind my chair and the same seagull had returned, but this time had something even better. An entire plate of fresh, homemade peanut butter cookies.

My friend had assumed our dessert would be safe in the top of her bag because it was a large plate, and the cookies were heavy, and the whole thing was wrapped tight in foil. To that, I have only one thing to say: Ha.

The gull clamped his beak around the edge of the plate and launched into the air.

“Hey!” I yelled. “Our cookies!”

Elizabeth and her friend jumped to their feet and chased the bird halfway down the beach. Believe it or not, he never dropped the plate, the foil remained intact, and he escaped with all of our cookies.

“I hope you have a peanut allergy!” I yelled, shaking my fist at the sky.

And the beat goes on.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Robin Gabe | Sep 02, 2019 11:16

I think this all started when people began feeding the seagulls at the shore. I remember when I lived in Winter Harbor that folks would go to Schoodic Point with bags of bread and hold the bread up over their heads so the gulls could take it out of their hands. Illegal, "but it's so much fun". Didn't take long before the gulls became "gull gangs" and it wasn't so much fun anymore. But it didn't stop the miscreants!

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