Friday, August 17, 2012

A Grave and a Gull

This summer's vacation kicked off in Manhattan and ends tomorrow here on the soggy coast of Maine.  After a week of college tours and daily reminders that my oldest is 17, we joined the rest of my family for two weeks in Boothbay.

Dad's Grave, Boothbay, ME
A week ago, a couple of dozen Jones' gathered at my father's grave to lay his ashes in the green field he chose himself.  He really did love this town: the rocky coast, the wild weather, the people.  He's the first to be laid to rest in this particular field.  A single stone sits alone.  Monarch butterflies dance over crowds of yellow blossoms, now, without any urgency.  Crickets sing.  It's a place apart, his place apart.

Strange thing, today.  The girls and I took my mother by, to the field.  It brings comfort to her: to stand there, to hear the crickets and birds, to watch the butterflies.  It's a lovely place, and peaceful.  After taking a couple pictures, we turned for the car, only to find that we were pursued by a very vocal and persistent gull.

She squawked and squealed at my mother, then at my daughter.  When the fun seemed to have run its course, I barked at her a bit, knowing it would spook her into flight.

But it did nothing of the sort.  Our gull seemed emboldened and hopped another couple of steps toward us, squawking and squealing.  My dear mother, laughing nervously, found the passenger side door and quickly secured her place in the car.  Daughter Fiona took a couple of pictures!  Still, our gull squawked.  A rather Hitchcockian moment on the coast of Maine!  And just twenty yards from Dad's grave.

Finally on our way, we looked back at the gull, who remained in the field.  She was poking into the grass now, collecting a twig here, a long piece of grass there.  And it struck me: she was building a nest!  She was building a nest for a little one on the way!  Her aggressive behavior was protective, in the way that gulls have to be when they're building nests, caring for the young, bringing new life into the world!

Face to Face: Our Gull
So here's what I choose to take from all this (besides the belly-laughing of my 74-year-old mother and two delighted daughters):  Dad's field--this quiet resting place he chose for himself--is also a place where something new is happening.  Some kind of new life.  Some kind of vulnerable, fragile step into the future.  And today I met a bird who was fierce in her devotion to life.  Fierce in her devotion to the circle that includes us all: my dad who died in February, my mom who grieves him so, my daughters who have everything to live for, and me.

I have still more mourning ahead of me.  That much is clear.  But this strangely aggressive gull--so familiar and so surprising--heralds something up ahead.  Something about life.  Something about hope.  Something about a bird doing what birds do: preparing to lay her little chick in a nest not far from the stone Dad chose as his grave.  She wanted us to know.  She looked us in the eye.  Something about life.

Thanks for the field, Dad.