Seagull’s death at Haystack Rock inspires poem

Harry Barker-Fost, 14, displays a puffin drawing he submitted to last year's California Coastal Commission art and poetry competition. The drawing did not bring him an award, but the poem he submitted earlier this year, “The Seagull's Funeral,” did.

Even when the animal kingdom isn’t pretty, it can still be inspiring.

Harry Barker-Fost, a 14-year-old language arts lover who lives in San Rafael, Calif., and vacations in Cannon Beach with his family, witnessed an unforgettable and rather depressing episode at Haystack Rock in the summer of 2011 and recently turned it into an award-winning poem.

Barker-Fost, his parents and cousins were tide-pooling near Cannon Beach’s signature seastack when, out of nowhere, a bald eagle swooped in, snatched up a baby seagull and tried to carry it off. A flock of gulls then attacked the eagle, forcing it to relinquish its prey and drop it into a tide pool.

But by then it was too late. The baby bird was dead.

“It was definitely really sad,” Barker-Fost said.

“That’s nature,” his dad, Dan Fost, said wistfully. “I mean, the bald eagle has to eat, and why not a seagull, because there’s plenty of them.”

Three years later, that experience became the stimulus for a five-stanza poem, “The Seagull’s Funeral,” which won Barker-Fost an honorable mention in a statewide poetry and art competition, organized by the California Coastal Commission, in March.

There were 2,331 submissions of poetry and art across five age groups. In Harry’s age group (seventh through nine grade), there were 190 poems submitted.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Barker-Fost said.

His poem takes a “harsh, more violent view of the coast, which is part of the truth of the coast and the natural cycle on our coast, and so it was just exciting to see that different reflection of the experience of being on the beach,” said Annie Kohut Frankel, education coordinator for the California Coastal Commission, who judged the submissions. “It was a great poem.”

“The Seagull’s Funeral” is making the rounds alongside other winners at different sites across the state this year.

This spring, it was displayed at the Point Reyes National Seashore Bear Valley Visitor Center in Marin County. It currently can be seen at the Ford House Museum in Mendocino County. In October, the poem will head to Ventura Harbor and La Jolla.

The California Coastal Commission encourages youth to “reflect on the beauty and spirit of California’s beaches and ocean” and thereby “inspire a greater sense of stewardship for these natural places.”

“A population that cares about the coast is more likely to work to conserve and protect it,” the commission’s website reads.

Barker-Fost, a rising freshman at Marin Academy who reads Robert Frost, Ogden Nash and Pablo Neruda, wants his readers to “feel what it was like to be there and experience that (occurrence),” he said. “It was something pretty rare that not a lot of people got to see, or will ever see.”

He has enjoyed the sea life at Haystack Rock since he was a small child, his mom, Betty Barker, said.

“It’s great to have contests that encourage children to think about the earth and the coast and to put their thoughts in words and art,” she said.

Though “The Seagull’s Funeral” happened on the Oregon Coast, Barker-Fost used it because it is the kind of spontaneous event that could have happened just about anywhere.

“When I think of the coast or the beach, I immediately thought of Haystack Rock, and that was one of the strongest memories that stood out for me,” Barker-Fost said.

Fost, a former business writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and the author of two books on the San Francisco Giants, couldn’t be prouder of his son.

“As a writer for newspaper and nonfiction, I couldn’t begin to write a poem,” he said. “It’s not my thing, so I just love that Harry’s found his own path and his own way to write.”

“The Seagull’s Funeral”

The body

So young

Eyes not seeing

Legs straight, wings sprawled

The killer

Experienced

Eyes perpetually hunting

Talons clenched, wings spread

The mourners

Shocked

Eyes tearful

Mouths quiet, noses sniffling

The coffin

Vast

Eyes shifting with the beach

Walls outstretched, cushion welcoming

The undertaker

Strong

Eyes impassive

Rugged waves fill the sandy grave.

Harry Barker-Fost

eighth grade, San Rafael

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