The eye of a gull

A bird’s character starts with its eye, and the eye of this black-headed gull is looking at me. It’s not frightened but hopeful, a plea for me to provide food. The scene is reflected in the eye, the sky forming a highlight, coot and mallard also hoping for food and a tiny image of me sitting on this bench made of weathered wooden slats. The gull’s world in miniature is projected in microscopic clarity, a mirror of the image shining on the bird’s retina. In this tiny drop we are sharing this world, sharing this moment.
The gull may have been looking at me with hope, and it may have seemed as though we were connected, but there is a barrier between us. There is a film of fear which is taught to every one of us. I noticed this whilst walking beside the canal at Llangollen. The towpath is so close to the water that I can easily reach down and touch it. The smoothly flowing, tea-coloured water is cold, stinging my fingers. Children are constantly told to stay away lest they fall in. I think about tasting it, but recoil after a lifetime of teaching that wild water is unclean, dangerous. Ribbon like leaves of water plants waft in the current like hay meadows in the wind and plump roach swim slowly upstream, rising occasionally to snatch an autumn fly. I imagine Tarka swimming past. Despite this picture of purity, I recoil from contact. It is ingrained in me that this un-processed wildness is dangerous. Everything we need must come from wildness, but it must pass through the film, be processed into the human world, to be safe. Are we so driven by technology that things which have not been purified by it are harmful? Is the world we occupy so contaminated, so poisoned, that real contact with it needs to be regulated?

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