I’m still thinking about everyday things and rare finds. It’s Saturday. I’m standing on the cold beach, taking bad photos of common birds. It’s practice, I tell myself. The slaty sky hangs down into a cobalt sea. Weather’s coming. I’m thinking scientific thoughts to distract myself from my freezing toes. Which birds are different? Which are the same? Why are there so many here, now? Has the storm out to sea driven them to this beach, where food is abundant and the water calmer? I turn the volume down on my busy thoughts, as I stomp warmth into my feet and try not to scare the birds away. I fire the camera shutter again and again. There’s a bird. There’s another bird. So many bad pictures.
I’m absorbed in naming, cataloging, capturing. Now is a good time for Nature to surprise me.
A slight ghost of a bird peels away from a flock of grey-backed, and mottled gulls surfing on the waves, and cuts into my view. This one is not like the others.
This gull should not be white, I think. I don’t even know whether it should be here, but I don’t have a name for it, and I can’t tell it to go home. After a minute or two, I figure out it probably belongs to one of the other common species in the flock, but it’s been bleached by a genetic fluke — leucistic, or albino, feathers pure white where they should be grey. Regardless of its provenance, it’s the prettiest thing I’ve seen on the beach all day, and I can’t take my eyes off of it.
Sometimes knowing names and facts kills the miracles. For example, if one knew that robins are the most common birds in New York, and that a certain kind of warbler was exceedingly rare, one might value that warbler highly, and forget that robins lay eggs in the most priceless shade of blue.
That would be a shame. I try not to do this.
On the other hand, knowing what to expect at the beach made it easy for me to recognize the one thing that didn’t belong — the miraculously white gull. If I’d looked at that flock of gulls and only seen “birds,” I’d have thought they were pretty, sure, but I might not have noticed the pure white one. I was able to name all the ones I knew — Herring gull. Black-backed gull. Ring-billed gull. Bonaparte’s gull — leaving only one I’d never seen before — White gull, whose name I don’t know. Why hello.
It turns out the white bird is a Bonaparte’s gull, a genetic twist on a rather common gull that winters here on Long Island. I wish I could carry it as a charm, a reminder on my wrist: one bird perfectly embodying my goal to find joy in the everyday equally as much as the once-in-a-lifetime.