We could hear the flapping of wings. We looked up expecting to see a hawk exploding from a nearby tree, but saw nothing. The sound stopped and so we continued our walk along the path at Bountiful Pond. Again we heard flapping, but still there was no bird, and then again it was quiet. We still hadn’t discovered the source of the frantic wingbeats. We continued walking and watching and listening.
Moments passed and then we heard the flapping again, louder and more insistent. And there above us in an olive tree was a gull dangling from a branch, a fishing line attached to his leg. He started flapping again, but he lacked the same energy as before. The hook at the end of the line was attached to his foot, and the struggle had further wrapped the line around his leg.
“We need to help him,” Gail said. I wanted to help too but couldn’t imagine how we were going to do anything. The trunk of the tree was too thick to shake and to shake it might cause the line to tighten around the gull’s leg. The bird was too near the top to reach, and was getting weaker by the moment. What we needed, a ladder, a long pole with a blade on the top, or wings of our own. What we had was none of the above. I thought about trying to climb the tree, but my tree climbing days ended years ago sitting at the bottom of my grandmother’s maple tree looking up.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t see how we can help.” I started down the path. But Gail was not moving. She wasn’t willing to accept that there was nothing we could do. I turned to rejoin her when a young man came along. He was an animal lover, or maybe Gail’s distressed look was the spark, but he started climbing the tree. He had climbed five or six feet when he reached one of the lower branches and shook it, but that didn’t free the bird. He climbed higher; he was getting nearer the gull, but the branches were slim and though he was also slim I wasn’t sure if the branches would hold. He still couldn’t reach the gull or even the branch the gull was tethered to. Be careful, I said, It’s not worth the risk, you’ve done the best you can. But like Gail he wasn’t ready to give up. I imagined our good samaritan falling. I could see the rocks below and his crumpled body lying there. The good samaritan, a dead samaritan, and the gull still dangling from the tree.
He shook the tree some more but still the gull was stuck. He broke off a branch and leaning out used it to pull the branch the gull was on nearer. All But the branch held, and he had the limb the gull was on in one hand while he held onto a nearby branch. He teetered a bit, and I gasped but he regained his balance. He shook the limb, but still the fishing line held fast. The branch was not too thick; he finally bent it until it broke, and the gull and part of the branch fell to the ground.
We couldn’t see the gull it was near or perhaps in the water right at the shoreline. We hurried forward to see if the gull had survived the fall and if it needed our help. It was half in and out of the water and as we approached it scrambled into the water and began to swim away from shore. The young man climbed down the tree swinging on a low branch and dropping a few feet to the ground. We thanked him for his help as we watched the gull swim away. We continued our walk and our search for the Red-necked Grebe, which we soon found, but it seemed a bit anticlimactic. We will remember the gull and the good samaritan for a long time, but the grebe will soon be just another tick on our Davis County list.