Tuesday 2 March 2021

One Flash Fiction Piece by Art O Suilleabhain


Seagulls on the lake 2021


The seagulls seem to know something this year. They have multiplied on the freshwater lake. I have heard them screaming from the shore where I walk, when I can only go so far from home. Perhaps I have heard them better since the silence had grown with the new era or perhaps it is that the Corrib isn’t as crowded now by the blaring outboard engines ferrying anglers from one favourite fishing place to another.


The seagulls have taunted me and my dog Oscar, from inaccessible rocks and small islands, practising social isolation in a way I can only grumble at. They seem to be jeering that they can fly when I cannot, that they understand something that I cannot see. Their screams seem to mock my fantasy that nature is there only for the pleasure of humankind, despite the fact that we all overburden it with our greed. We catch too many fish, not to feed our children but to feed our need for sport, to show our dominion over the environment. Nature, it seems, has its own way of balancing itself.


The seagulls once changed their habits many years ago, flocking to our dumps to scavenge for food. They congregated at seaside resorts to catch the easy leftovers and sometimes to snatch tasty morsels from the walkers who had purchased fast-food or cones for themselves. But that is gone now and the seagulls have come back to the lake this spring to stay for the summer. The Corrib produces great hatches of olives and mayflies in May, but many of the beautiful, transient insects were gathered by the anglers. The flies that weren’t used as bait were often discarded, dead, useless and hardened by a day or two in the mayfly box. The influx of boats and angler-crowded water chased away the gulls. But they have  come back this year, screaming their laughter at us. They seem to anticipate a May full of mayflies on the lake, when the only competition for them will be among the gulls themselves.


There will be no angling competitions this year either. The trout will have a year of recovery, they will gorge on the bountiful mayflies, despite the gulls. The trout will grow fat on the protein and hopefully will spawn unhindered in pristine rivers come the autumn. The water will go unpolluted by two stroke engine oil or by the noise of new four stroke engines.


Oscar, my swimming crazy Irish water-spaniel, took to the water recently and swam to a nearby rock, himself taunted by one of the seagulls. Needless to say, the gull nonchalantly flew a circle over the waves and left Oscar wondering. He had to come back empty mouthed. Of course he waited until he was beside me to shake himself off and spray the water in a quivering arc, no worries about the spray distance for him. The gull landed back on the rock seconds later. Perhaps it was his or her designated restaurant near where insects popped up from the bottom of the lake, and metamorphosed into wonderful flying creatures for the gulls to pick from the surface or chase in the air.


Whatever happens in May, it will be a time of plenty for the gulls. They will gorge themselves on Corrib’s bounty of mayflies. It will be the same, no doubt on lakes all over Ireland. Gulls will binge on a rich diet of wild protein, given freely from the lake. Thousands of the mayflies will still escape to heather and whin bushes to wait out a day and then lay their eggs over the water, beginning the cycle again. The trout will splash and gobble the fresh, soft, green mayflies from the surface of the lake, undisturbed by visiting anglers, and unfazed by the gulls. A new normal will return.

Art Ó Súilleabháin lives in Corr na Mona in Joyce Country, in North Connemara. He has retired there after working as a teacher, a director of education in the west of ireland and as a lecturer at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. He has published a number of books for children (in the Irish language), reads some his work on Irish radio and will publish a collection of poetry for adults (Mayflies in the Heather) in March 2021.He is the father of six wonderful children - Aoibhinn, Eoin, Cian, Darach, Fiachra and Art óg. Art is currently working with an artist in Texas ( Jessica Phillips )who will produce some porcelain pieces based on his poetry.

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