Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest
facts of ﬂight — how to get from shore to food and back again.
For most gulls, it is not ﬂying that matters, but eating. For this
gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but ﬂight. More
than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to ﬂy.
周is kind of thinking, he found, is not the way to make
one’s self popular with other birds. Even his parents were dis-
mayed as Jonathan spent whole days alone, making hundreds
of low-level glides, experimenting.
He didn’t know why, for instance, but when he ﬂew at alti-
tudes less than half his wingspan above the water, he could stay
in the air longer, with less eﬀort. His glides ended not with the
usual feet-down splash into the sea, but with a long ﬂat wake
as he touched the surface with his feet tightly streamlined
against his body. When he began sliding in to feet-up landings
on the beach, then pacing the length of his slide in the sand,
his parents were very much dismayed indeed.
“Why, Jon, why?” his mother asked. “Why is it so hard to be
like the rest of the ﬂock, Jon? Why can’t you leave low ﬂying
to the pelicans, the albatross? Why don’t you eat? Jon, you’re
bone and feathers!”
“I don’t mind being bone and feathers, Mum. I just want to
know what I can do in the air and what I can’t, that’s all. I just
want to know.”
“See here, Jonathan,” said his father, not unkindly. “Winter
isn’t far away. Boats will be few, and the surface ﬁsh will be
swimming deep. If you must study, then study food, and how
to get it. 周is ﬂying business is all very well, but you can’t eat
a glide, you know. Don’t you forget that the reason you ﬂy is
Jonathan nodded obediently. For the next few days he tried
to behave like the other gulls; he really tried, screeching and
ﬁghting with the ﬂock around the piers and ﬁshing boats,
diving on scraps of ﬁsh and bread. But he couldn’t make it
It’s all so pointless, he thought, deliberately dropping a
hard-won anchovy to a hungry old gull chasing him. I could be
spending all this time learning to ﬂy. 周ere’s so much to learn!
It wasn’t long before Jonathan Gull was oﬀ byhimself again,
far out at sea, hungry, happy, learning.
周e subject was speed, and in a week’s practice he learned
more about speed than the fastest gull alive.
From a thousand feet, ﬂapping his wings as hard as he
could, he pushed over into a blazing steep dive toward the
waves, and learned why seagulls don’t make blazing steep
power-dives. In just six seconds he was moving seventy miles
per hour, the speed at which one’s wing goes unstable on the
Time a晴er time it happened. Careful as he was, working at
the very peak of his ability, he lost control at high speed.
Climb to a thousand feet. Full power straight ahead ﬁrst,
then push over, ﬂapping, to a vertical dive. 周en, every time,
his le晴 wing stalled on an upstroke, he’d roll violently le晴,
stall his right wing recovering, and ﬂick like ﬁre into a wild
tumbling spin to the right.
He couldn’t be careful enough on that upstroke. Ten times
he tried, and all ten times, as he passed through seventy miles
per hour, he burst into a churning mass of feathers, out of
control, crashing down into the water.
周e key, he thought at last, dripping wet, must be to hold
the wings still at high speeds — to ﬂap up to ﬁ晴y and then hold
the wings still.
From two thousand feet he tried again, rolling into his dive,
beak straight down, wings full out and stable from the
moment he passed ﬁ晴y miles per hour. It took tremendous
strength, but it worked. In ten seconds he had blurred through
ninety miles per hour. Jonathan had set a world speed record
But victory was short-lived. 周e instant he began his pull-
out, the instant he changed the angle of his wings, he snapped
into that same terrible uncontrolled disaster, and at ninety
miles per hour it hit him like dynamite. Jonathan Seagull
exploded in midair and smashed down into a brick-hard sea.
When he came to, it was well a晴er dark, and he ﬂoated in
moonlight on the surface of the ocean. His wings were ragged
bars of lead, but the weight of failure was even heavier on his
back. He wished, feebly, that the weight could be just enough
to drag him gently down to the bottom, and end it all.
As he sank low in the water, a strange hollow voice sound-
ed within him. 周ere’s no way around it. I am a seagull. I am
limited by my nature. If I were meant to learn so much about
ﬂying, I’d have charts for brains. If I were meant to ﬂy at speed,
I’d have a falcon’s short wings, and live on mice instead of ﬁsh.
My father was right. I must forget this foolishness. I must ﬂy
home to the Flock and be content as I am, as a poor limited
周e voice faded, and Jonathan agreed. 周e place for a
seagull at night is on shore, and from this moment forth, he
vowed, he would be a normal gull. It would make everyone
He pushed wearily away from the dark water and ﬂew
toward the land, grateful for what he had learned about work-
saving low-altitude ﬂying.
But no, he thought. I am done with the way I was, I am done
with everything I learned. I am a seagull like every other sea-
gull, and I will ﬂy like one. So he climbed painfully to a
hundred feet and ﬂappedhiswingsharder,pressingforshore.
He felt better for his decision to be just another one of
the ﬂock. 周ere would be no ties now to the force that had
driven him to learn, there would be no more challenge and no
more failure. And it was pretty, just to stop thinking, and ﬂy
through the dark, toward the lights above the beach.
Dark! 周ehollow voicecrackedinalarm.Seagulls never ﬂy in
Jonathan was not alert to listen. It’s pretty, he thought.
周e moon and the lights twinkling on the water, throwing
out little beacon-trails through the night, and all so peaceful
and still ...
Get down! Seagulls never ﬂy in the dark!If you were meant
to ﬂy in the dark, you’d have the eyes of an owl! You’d have
charts for brains! You’d have a falcon’s short wings!
周ere in the night, a hundred feet in the air, Jonathan
Livingston Seagull — blinked. His pain, his resolutions, vanished.
Short wings. A falcon’s short wings!
周at’s the answer! What a fool I’ve been! All I need is a tiny
little wing, all I need is to fold most of my wings and ﬂy on just
the tips alone! Short wings!
He climbed two thousand feet above the black sea, and
without a moment for thought of failure and death, he brought
his forewings tightly in to his body, le晴 only the
narrow swept daggers of his wingtips extended into the wind,
and fell into a vertical dive.
周e wind was a monster roar at his head. Seventy miles
per hour, ninety, a hundred and twenty and faster still. 周e
wing-strain now at a hundred and forty miles per hour wasn’t
nearly as hard as it had been before at seventy, and with the
faintest twist of his wingtips he eased out of the dive and shot
above the waves, a grey cannonball under the moon.
He closed his eyes to slits against the wind and rejoiced.
A hundred forty miles per hour! And under control! If I dive
from ﬁve thousand feet instead of two thousand, I wonder how
His vows of a moment before were forgotten, swept away
in that great swi晴 wind. Yet he felt guiltless, breaking the
promises he had made himself. Such promises are only for
the gulls that accept the ordinary. One who has touched
excellence in his learning has no need of that kind of promise.
By sunup, Jonathan Gull was practising again. From ﬁve
thousand feet the ﬁshing boats were specks in the ﬂat blue
water, Breakfast Flock was a faint cloud of dust motes, circling.
He was alive, trembling ever so slightly with delight, proud
that his fear was under control. 周en without ceremony he
hugged in his forewings, extended his short, angled wingtips,
and plunged directly toward the sea. By the time he passed
four thousand feet he had reached terminal velocity, the wind
was a solid beating wall of sound against which he could move
no faster. He was ﬂying now straight down, at two hundred
fourteen miles per hour. He swallowed, knowing that if his
wings unfolded at that speed he’d be blown into a million tiny
shreds of seagull. But the speed was power, and the speed was
joy, and the speed was pure beauty.
He began his pullout at a thousand feet, wingtips thudding
and blurring in that gigantic wind, the boat and the crowd of
gulls tilting and growing meteor-fast, directly in his path.
He couldn’t stop; he didn’t know yet even how to turn at
Collision would be instant death.
And so he shut his eyes.
It happened that morning, then, just a晴er sunrise, that
Jonathan Livingston Seagull ﬁred directly through the centre
of Breakfast Flock, ticking oﬀ two hundred twelve miles
per hour, eyes closed, in a great roaring shriek of wind
and feathers. 周e Gull of Fortune smiled upon him this once,
and no one was killed.
By the time he had pulled his beak straight up into the sky
he was still scorching along at a hundred and sixty miles per
hour. When he had slowed to twenty and stretched his wings
again at last, the boat was a crumb on the sea, four thousand
His thought was triumph. Terminal velocity! A seagull at
two hundred fourteen miles per hour! It was a breakthrough, the
greatest single moment in the history of the Flock, and in that
moment a new age opened for Jonathan Gull. Flying out to his
lonely practice area, folding his wings for a dive from eight
thousand feet, he set himself at once to discover how to turn.
A single wingtip feather, he found, moved a fraction of an
inch, gives a smooth sweeping curve at tremendous speed.
Before he learned this, however, he found that moving more
than one feather at that speed will spin you like a riﬂe ball ...
and Jonathan had ﬂown the ﬁrst aerobatics of any seagull on
He spared no time that day for talk with other gulls, but
ﬂew on past sunset. He discovered the loop, the slow roll, the
point roll, the inverted spin, the gull bunt, the pinwheel.
When Jonathan Seagull joined the Flock on the beach, it was
full night. He was dizzy and terribly tired. Yet in delight he
ﬂew a loop to landing, with a snap roll just before touchdown.
When they hear of it, he thought, of the Breakthrough, they’ll
be wild with joy. How much more there is now to living!
Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the ﬁshing
boats, there’s a reason to life! We can li晴 ourselves out of igno-
rance, we can ﬁnd ourselves as creatures of excellence and
intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to ﬂy!
周e gulls were ﬂocked into the Council Gathering when he
landed, and apparently had been so ﬂocked for some time.
“Jonathan Livingston Seagull! Stand to Centre!” 周e
Elder’s words sounded in a voice of highest ceremony. Stand
to Centre meant only great shame or great honour. Stand to
Centre for Honour was the way the gulls’ foremost leaders
were marked. Of course, he thought, the Breakfast Flock this
morning; they saw the Breakthrough! But I want no honours.
I have no wish to be leader. I want only to share what I’ve
found, to show those horizons out ahead for us all. He stepped
“Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” said the Elder, “Stand to
Centre for shame in the sight of your fellow gulls!”
It felt like being hit with a board. His knees went weak, his
feathers sagged, there was a roaring in his ears. Centred for
shame? Impossible! 周e Breakthrough! 周ey can’t understand!
“... for his reckless irresponsibility,” the solemn voice
intoned, “violating the dignity and tradition of the Gull
To be centred for shame meant that he would be cast out of
gull society, banished to a solitary life on the Far Cliﬀs.
“... one day, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, you shall learn
that irresponsibility does not pay. Life is the unknown and the
unknowable, except that we are put into this world to eat, to
stay alive as long as we possibly can.”
A seagull never speaks back to the Council Flock, but it was
Jonathan’s voice raised. “Irresponsibility? My brothers!” he
cried. “Who is more responsible than a gull who ﬁnds and
follows a meaning, a higher purpose for life? For a thousand
years we have scrabbled a晴er ﬁsh heads, but now we have a
reason to live — to learn, to discover, to be free! Give me one
chance, let me show you what I’ve found ...”
“周e Brotherhood is broken,” the gulls intoned together,
and with one accord they solemnly closed their ears and
turned their backs upon him.
Jonathan Seagull spent the rest of his days alone, but he ﬂew
way out beyond the Far Cliﬀs. His one sorrow was not
solitude, it was that other gulls refused to believe the glory of
ﬂight that awaited them; they refused to open their eyes and
He learned more each day. He learned that a streamlined
high-speed dive could bring him to ﬁnd the rare and tasty ﬁsh
that schooled ten feet below the surface of the ocean: he no
longer needed ﬁshing boats and stale bread for survival. He
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested