I live on the top floor of a three-storey Edinburgh tenement (I like to joke it’s the penthouse) which is located on the border between: a well-off part of the city, and the place where ‘Trainspotting’ was set and filmed. There are a Tesla cars and there are junkies also. So it goes.
Each room in the flat is light and airy with high ceilings and large windows, all of which look out on sky and the rooftops opposite. When lockdown proper began everything got real quiet. No traffic noise, no planes, no chatter from people meeting on the street; no music or clanking delivery trucks. Just the unfolding space of silence.
And the seagulls.
The shore is not far from us, so seagulls are a constant. They seem to particularly like our street. I’m not sure why. Maybe the crossroads creates favourable air currents. Maybe the nearby fish and chip shop has the choicest garbage. Maybe they’re just used to it. Whatever the reason, every morning and evening is scored by their curving flight and gutteral cries.
Sometime during lockdown a few of them had babies. The first thing we noticed were the new calls, higher and more insistent than usual. Then, one evening during dinner, we saw them for the first time. A group of tiny dark bodies nestled on the roof opposite. Over the next few weeks they started to explore their surroundings. We would see them totter up to the roof’s edge, take a look down, then, seemingly daunted by the height, teeter back; all the while crying out for more food.
We’ve lived here for more than eight years and this is the first time we’ve seen baby gulls. It could be this happens every summer but we missed it in the noise. I prefer to think that, when things slowed down, like the pioneers of old, the gulls decided to claim the quieter streets for their own.
The reason I’m telling you this is because in the last few days the young have started to fly. They are now making short trips from roof to roof, confidence growing with each new day that passes. As the silence recedes like a wave and the world begins it’s stuttering spin once more; as we re-emerge into a light and life now changed, this image of small dark birds taking their first step into nothing but air, this literal leap of faith, seems somehow fitting. And more than that.
It seems hopeful.
Everything moves in cycles. Tides, seasons, the arc of our lives and our planet’s journey around the sun. On a long enough timeline all patterns become obvious.
I don’t know the future, but I know a little history.
Were you aware that ‘the roaring 20’s’ – that Great Gatsby decade of partying, and art, and dancing, and laughter – came about in large part as a reaction to the 1918 Spanish Flu and the war that preceded it?
I know we’re not out of the dark times yet. The Spanish flu lasted for around 2 years, and most of us are still wrestling with the thick of it. But darkness does not last forever. Dawn comes. Things change; that’s what things do.
The pandemic will end, the world will turn and, sometime very soon, there will be the dancing, and the music, and the art, and the laughter.
If you’re having a hard time right now I feel you. But do not despair just yet.
Take heart, and remember the seagulls:
First comes the silence of mourning
Then the cry of the young
A single step into nothing
Now the joyeous screaming of flight.
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