My friend Deb and I had just rounded the band shell at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis last Sunday afternoon when we noticed a growing number of walkers gathering near a tall lightpost. Their murmur suggested trouble, so we headed over.
There, hanging upside down from the lightpost, was a frantic gull. One of its legs was wrapped in a line of some sort, most likely fishing line. Perhaps the bird had dipped into the lake and pulled the line up with it, snagging it on the post; perhaps it flew past the lightpost and the line snagged the bird on its way skyward.
Regardless, the trapped bird was flapping its wings to exhaustion in an unsuccessful attempt to spring free. It spun around, head downward, bumping the post with a thud, then spinning round again. I could only imagine how rapidly its little heart was beating.
The bird’s desperation was expanding to the people gathered below it, all talking in low voices. What to do?
Everyone wanted to free it from this misery. But how do you free a gull tethered more than 12 feet above when you have no ladder, and the band shell tables are bolted to the ground too far away, and the victim is inclined to peck your face off if you get near it?
This is how:
A few women grabbed a sturdy trash barrel and pulled it over to the lightpost. A brave boy crawled on top of the barrel. Someone handed him a small pocketknife, which he placed in his mouth (causing this mother to gasp). The brave boy tried to pull himself up the pole, but it was too difficult a task. Wisely, he returned the knife to its owner, then jumped down. The gull swirled in torment.
A tall man was next. But even atop the trash can, he could not reach the bird. By now, the crowd had doubled. Everyone was looking up, focusing on the bird.
The women grabbed a second trash can, pulled it over to the lamppost and heaved it on top of the first.
At this point, I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch, but, of course, I did.
The tall man was back. People hoisted him up on top of the double-stacked trash cans. Even at his height, which I’m guessing was about 6 feet, he remained below the bird. He kept his head tucked for self-preservation, while people on the ground shouted well-intentioned instructions on when to cut the rapidly shifting line.
Finally, the tall man looked up, assessed the line rising and falling with the bird’s peripatetic movement, and waited for the right instant.
Everyone held their breath.
His hand tore through the air. He cut the line. The gull was free, safe, flying away — please forgive the simile — like a bat out of hell.
The crowd hooted and clapped. For the gull. For the man.
People helped him climb down. The women dragged the trash cans back to their places. After a moment, everyone returned to what they had been doing: walking, biking and running on an unseasonably warm Nov. 1.
In the annals of great heroic feats, this wouldn’t make the shortlist. Still, we parted ways carrying a shared feeling of accomplishment for one good deed.
I know this is a small story in the scheme of big, horrible things we must digest on a daily basis. That is precisely why I’m telling it.
I believe that this could have occurred on any lake, and the outcome would have been the same, had any walkers, bikers or runners come upon the same scene.
I believe we need a dose of sweet stories like this to buoy us on occasion, to remind us of what it looks like when we work together.