The sound of the impact was startling all right, but it was the absurdity of the whole spectacle that really knocked us off our feet.
I was preparing to close Reid State Park for the night, wandering through the parking lot picking up bits of litter while I waited for a family at a nearby picnic site to finish packing up the remains of their meal.
“Hard to believe it’s mid-November and still nice enough to picnic at the beach!” the woman said with a broad smile, loading her leftover potato salad into the car. Her husband and teenage son trailed behind, sharing the weight of a good-sized cooler.
Just as I opened my mouth to reply, a full-sized, adult sea gull swooped down out of nowhere. It careened past our heads, missing us by inches, and then, inexplicably, continued flying at full-speed, head-first, directly into the side of the outhouse — just a few feet from where we stood.
The force of the collision violently rattled the entire structure, and every one of us flinched, yelping in surprise.
The bird dropped to the ground immediately after the impact and lay in a motionless, crumpled heap, one wing twitching briefly before coming to rest against the outhouse wall at a most awkward and unnatural angle.
“Holy cow, that scared the life out of me!” the woman exclaimed breathlessly, one hand covering her racing heart. “What in the world could have caused …”
Her voice trailed off as the whole family looked over at the twisted, feather-covered carnage at the base of the outhouse, grimaced in unison, and then looked back at me, their eyes searching mine for some sort of rational explanation.
I didn’t have one.
I did feel a pang of regret for the bird, though. No creature, not even a lowly sea gull, should survive all the perils of life in the wild only to meet such an abrupt and unfortunate end. Flying into a plate-glass window is one thing, but the side of an outhouse — it just seemed so undignified. Not to mention completely preventable, considering the outhouse didn’t exactly fling itself into the bird’s flight path.
“Mom, look!” The teenage boy’s cry interrupted my thoughts, and he excitedly pointed at the bird. “It’s alive!”
I followed the boy’s gaze and sure enough, the crumpled heap slowly, astonishingly, began getting to its feet. It shook itself a few times, bit by bit regaining its senses — and its traditional sea gull shape. Finally, it let out a rather angry sounding squawk, clearly directed at the outhouse, and flew off, coming to rest in the branch of a nearby spruce tree.
That squawk sounded very much like an expletive in sea gull speak, and as the picnickers and I took turns translating its many possible meanings into English, our giggles exploded into bursts of uncontrollable laughter that soon crippled us as effectively as the outhouse wall had crippled that poor bird.
Our merriment continued as we tossed around various, increasingly outlandish theories as to what could have caused the event in the first place, explanations that ranged from wind shear to drunkenness and everything in between.
“He was texting!” the teenager proclaimed, apparently knowledgeable about such hazards.
“No, he just couldn’t face another season of Christmas shopping!” his father chimed in, amid a fresh chorus of laughter.
Although they can evidently swear, sea gulls don’t seem to laugh at themselves too readily. Grace, as we officially dubbed the bird, lingered on the spruce branch for several minutes, pointedly ignoring us and acting perfectly ordinary and nonchalant, as if nothing had happened — a tactic, let’s just say, I’m fairly familiar with.
“Yeah, OK, Grace,” I called up to the bird with a knowing wink. “Just act like you meant to do it!”
After we finally regained our composure, the man looked at me in earnest. “Seriously,” he said, “What do you suppose happened there?”
I still didn’t have an explanation. “Sir,” I replied, equally earnestly, “I’ve seen lots of eye-catching animal behavior here. I’ve seen a moose frolic in the surf; I’ve seen a seal pup take a nap in the snowy woods; I’ve even seen a very confused partridge fall hopelessly in love with our maintenance guy and follow him around like a puppy in a one-sided affair that spanned two seasons.”
“But in 25 years at Reid State Park,” I continued, “I’ve never seen anything quite as ridiculous as an apparently normal seagull flying full-speed into an outhouse wall, and I honestly can’t think of any theory for it that would sound even remotely plausible.”
The woman fell quiet for a moment and pondered my words. “Geez,” she said, “I thought the off-season was uneventful here, but you certainly seem to house some — er — entertaining wildlife”
“Yeah,” her husband answered with a chuckle. “I guess you can’t miss a minute.”
I laughed again, but I couldn’t have agreed more. The off-season is a perfect time to get out and enjoy Maine’s magical state parks and everything they have to offer.
You never know, a visit might just bring a little unexpected entertainment — maybe even a fall from Grace — into your day.
For more information about Maine state parks and historic sites, go to: http://www.parksandlands.com.