Ever since we have lived at Eshaness we have had a resident herring gull named Heathcliff. Heathcliff became famous when he appeared in my book, The Last Lighthouse, where he was conducting X-rated behavior on top of the garage. Almost every day during the summer he could be found sitting on top of the lighthouse tower, the sundial or the garage. Like all the sea birds he migrated somewhere in the winter.
Heathcliff became my friend. When I would go out to hang the clothes he would keep me company. If I sat on the ladder table to watch the sunset he would sit beside me. It was not unusual to see my chickens, three orphaned lambs and one seagull wandering around in the yard. In the evening if I were inside reading a book or watching TV the shadow of his giant wings would pass the window which meant that it was time for his evening snack. When I opened the door he would be standing on the step waiting.
He would almost always be sitting on the top of the lighthouse tower waiting for me if I had to leave for an extended length of time. Last summer when I returned from a week in mainland Scotland to speak to a tour of Scottish lighthouses, Heathcliff was not sitting on the tower waiting. That evening I kept going out into the yard looking for him but he did not come. Every so often there had been a few days when I did not see him so I was not too troubled, but after a week and still no Heathcliff I became really apprehensive. Every evening I went outside looking for him but soon my optimism turned to tears, as there was no Heathcliff.
I wondered if he had become too tame and a predator had gotten him but adult herring gulls are large and strong they have no natural predators in Shetland. He was not afraid of humans but tourists loved watching him and taking his picture so I did not think they would have done him any harm.
I did notice not only Heathcliff but all of the herring gulls in our area had disappeared. Everyone attributed it to the serious decline in fish in the waters around Eshaness causing the birds to starve. While I was gone Heathcliff would not have had his usual food so he must have gone elsewhere.
Santa, I miss Heathcliff desperately. He is not just a herring gull he is my friend. Tears still come when I think about or see a picture of him. I have only one wish for Christmas. Next spring, when the birds return to Eshaness please send Heathcliff back to the lighthouse.
This story appeared in the
December 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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