It was a beautiful and sunny day in the flatwater badlands of west Florida, and my body was caked in dry saltwater. Apparently this condition is a delicatessen to the area’s locals, who praise it as a sort of “cleansing of the soul.” I admit it’s a thrill being in the wild tides of mother earth, yet I continue to find myself raving about the bathwater bacterial sess pool that is every friendly neighborhood Orlando lake. Am I so wrong to prefer amoebas and rotting alligators over ocean breezes and oyster beds?
But I digress…the sun was slowly making me senile like the rest of these swash buckling salt-fuckers. Soon enough I was overtaken by the same euphoric feeling of weathered contentment that the locals are addicted to, like a cigarette drag to that crusty old lady on Ma’s Roadhouse.
Ah, yes, this was some true Florida living.
The sea-doo I was commandeering zipped through tunnels of mangrove trees and past leather-skinned fishermen. Pelicans soared lazily over the waters we had been wakeskating on all weekend. Standing on griptape and hanging on to a rope sixty feet behind my vessel was a young Bradenton lad by the name of Travis Doran.
At the time, Travis was really coming into his own on a waterboard. He hungered for the shred at all hours of the day and night. He was going for his third set of the day and had only just gotten warmed up when some movement in the mangroves caught his eye. He let go of the handle and coasted to a stop. Bewildered, I turned the jet ski around and what I found was devastating.
There was Travis, slowly approaching a struggling young seagull who had tangled himself in a mess of fishing line. The line was stuck on the mangroves and had tethered the bird in place, laid him to waste in the mud while his wings longed to be in the sky. Who knew how long the poor guy had been there. Needless to say, the gull was scared for its life and something had to be done. Travis started pulling slowly at the line and we used a shell to cut the remainder. The bird was frightened and tense, but we were eventually able to pull the last of the line off of him.
Finally free, our little friend shook his wings open in gratitude and took flight over his home waters and into the trade winds. Travis got back on his board and went on his merry waterdancing way. By the end of his set we had all but forgotten about our little rescue.
Hours later, back home, we catch a glimpse of the evening news. The anchorman’s voice is urgent and stern as he relays the story of a tragic plane crash near the Tampa airport. The victims were eastern European ambassadors in town to attend a political summit to debate Florida’s role as the likely host of the first zombie apocalypse (oh yes, there will be many). We were horrified.
“I’m stocking up on Fritos and lighters! And those little muffins they sell at 7-11! We need guns!” Travis was lost in thought.
But what came out of the news anchor’s mouth next was even more unbelievable.
“The crash is believed to be caused by a flock of seagulls flying near the landing strip…Whether these were American or illegally migrated Canadian birds is still being investigated…” His voice trailed off and Travis and I sat in stoned-cold silence as the TV drone faded into the background. I watched Trav’s facial expression go from shock and disbelief to a gradual realization of what his humanitarian actions earlier in the day may have set into motion. We looked at each other wanting assurance from the other that certainly our precious, rescued bird would never be the culprit in such a horrific accident. But there was just no way to tell…
So which is Travis Doran? Talented young wakeskate buck or international terrorist? It’s hard to say. Maybe he’s just a jellyfish, drifting through the moon tides with the rest of us, stretching his tentacles and grabbing whatever current he can hang on to. Either way, I have no doubts Travis will go on to save the lives of more sea gulls in the future, even if they continue to choose to carry out diabolical assassinations on American turf.
Long Live the Gull Lord!