Chip Snatching Seagulls!

Living on the shores of Lake Michigan, we have seagulls aplenty. I like the sound of their aerial calls (for the noise makes me feel like I live something of a ‘beachy’ life), but I get easily irritated with their squawks and screeches when they stalk the vicinity of my beach chair for scraps from my picnics!

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I took these photos as ambling pedestrians threw bits of food into the air for swarming, squawking gulls. I was able to get some unique shots. Wouldn’t it be something to be able to fly! I think gulls are such robust, beautiful birds…

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Gulls are seabirds, though they are not known to fly out to sea. They stay close to shore and have adapted most especially to humans (who they so enjoy being given, or snatching food from). Once as I finished a lunch, I placed my plastic bag of partially eaten chips down next to my chair in the sand. One particular gull would not leave me alone, stalking that bag of chips no matter how much I tried to shoo and chase it away (which became sort of embarrassing for me with so many other beach goers around). It would fly off a few yards, and then screech at me to high heavens with one eye always turned on that chip bag!

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However annoying, I find seagulls’ tenacity and cleverness to be interesting to watch. They are known to be highly intelligent, persistent birds, and I quite like their quickness and bravery…

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Once a set of mating gulls pair up, they are together for life. They lay their eggs (about three) in shallow nests of sand, moss or grasses upon the ground. Once the precious, fuzzy babies arrive, one of the parents remain with them at all times…

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Seagulls eat a great many things (dead or alive), be it creatures of the sea (fish and squid), or creatures on land (bugs and lizards). Sadly, they are even known to gobble up baby gulls from other nests (which may be why one parent is always hovering near their nestlings)…

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I have a particular love for researching the bits of nature I encounter, and try to learn something new as often as I can. What small thing can I take from gulls? Well, it certainly isn’t that one should squawk and screech until they obtain what they desire (that’s just bad manners)…

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One thing I can say is that the local gulls deserve respect for surviving these most brutal of icy and windy winters that Chicago frequently serves up. In fact, they deserve an all-you-can-eat buffet of potato chips for that!┬áBut jesting aside, I’m inspired by the way they carry themselves with a certain pride and strength as they look out over the waters, even though they never know whether the waves will be tumultuous or whether all will be calm…

Here’s wishing you more quiet waters than rowdy, but that you’ll have the strength to ride out whatever turbulence might come your way!

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

I picked up a used copy of The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson with the dust jacket missing. I’m not even sure why I selected it since the grey cover gave nothing away. However, a line inside read…The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World…intriguing!

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After the first page, I was hooked! I liken Stephen Johnson’s excellent weaving of history to author Erik Larson’s style (whose Devil In The White City and Thunderstruck had me on the edge of my seat). This book takes a journey through a 7 day period in the summer of 1854 in the city of London, when one hapless neighborhood is plagued by cholera. Within a very short span, 616 folks passed away in the most terrible way.

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I must admit that though I had a basic understanding of other pestilence, I knew nothing about cholera before picking up this book. After having read it, I am more appreciative of the untainted drinking water I enjoy each and every day, and saddened by the fact that this disease is still a part of our modern world…

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Cholera is a bacteria that lives in human waste. If such tainted waste meets a water source, and then the water is ingested by people, they are at risk. Cholera has some less severe strains, and some that are very severe indeed (such as the one which caused London’s outbreak in 1854).

Once the cholera bacteria enters the small intestine, the loss of water in the victim becomes so immediate and severe┬áthat dehydration can occur within hours, leaving a gaunt and lifeless individual behind. This is the least graphic description I can profer, for the disease is quite worse than that…Johnson’s The Ghost Map is not for the squeamish.

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Why did I eat up this book? First, its description of Victorian Era London and the living conditions of the city’s poor was fascinating. The book also gives an excellent synopsis of what healthcare was like (for both doctor and patient)…eeek! And from a scientific perspective, it illustrates both a period of discovery, while also the harsh battling amongst medical professionals/scientists…

For instance, in 1854 many illnesses were considered airborne. Particularly, passing on to humans at times when the air was the stinkiest (think hot, unsanitary streets during London’s summer before the efficient waste management practices of today). Therefore, to consider that cholera might be a waterborne illness (as proposed during this outbreak by a London doctor named John Snow), received considerable mocking.

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In this particular instance, Dr. Snow’s observations and queries in the neighborhood led him to believe that the outbreak was coming from one city water pump on Broad Street in particular, and he wanted that pump terminated as quickly as possible…it took a fight.

This particular story in history too, helped lead to changes in city planning, sanitation laws and waste management, and certainly opened the discussion up and away from the airborne theory alone for infectious diseases. The Ghost Map also brings individual stories to light, and shares an understanding of the players involved in such a remarkable event…

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If you have an interest in medicine, science, city planning, cartography, history, or just enjoy exploring different snapshots of the past and what people went through…this is a book for you. I will certainly remember it for a long time to come, and remain more mindful of the blessing that is a clean glass of water…