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Richard Bach. Jonathan Livingston Seagull
To the real Jonathan Seagull,
who lives within us all.
It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a
gentle sea. A mile from shore a fishing boat chummed the water. and the
word for Breakfast Flock flashed through the air, till a crowd of a
thousand seagulls came to dodge and fight for bits of food. It was another
busy day beginning.
But way off alone, out by himself beyond boat and shore, Jonathan
Livingston Seagull was practicing. A hundred feet in the sky he lowered
his webbed feet, lifted his beak, and strained to hold a painful hard
twisting curve through his wings. The curve meant that he would fly
slowly, and now he slowed until the wind was a whisper in his face, until
the ocean stood still beneath him. He narrowed his eyes in fierce
concentration, held his breath, forced one... single... more... inch...
of... curve... Then his featliers ruffled, he stalled and fell.
Seagulls, as you know, never falter, never stall. To stall in the air
is for them disgrace and it is dishonor.
But Jonathan Livingston Seagull, unashamed, stretching his wings
again in that trembling hard curve - slowing, slowing, and stalling once
more - was no ordinary bird.
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.
This kind of thinking, he found, is not the way to make one's self
popular with other birds. Even his parents were dismayed 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 altitudes 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 alhatross? Why don't you eat? Son, you're bone and feathers!"
"I don't mind being bone and feathers mom. 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. This 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 to eat."
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 work.
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. There's so much to learn!
It wasn't long before Jonathan Gull was off by himself again, far out
at sea, hungry, happy, learning.
The 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 pewer-dives. In just six seconds he was
moving seventy miles per hour, the speed at which one's wing goes unstable
on the upstroke.
Time after 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. Then, every time, his left wing
stalled on an upstroke, he'd roll violently left, 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
The key, he thought at last, dripping wet, must be to hold the wings
still at high speeds - to flap up to fifty 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 fifty
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 for seagulls!
But victory was short-lived. The instant he began his pullout, 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
When he came to, it was well after 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 drug him gently down to the bottom, and
end it all.
As he sank low in the water, a strange hollow voice sounded within
him. There'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 seagull.
The voice faded, and Jonathan agreed. The 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 happier.
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 seagull, and I will
fly like one. So he climbed painfully to a hundred feet and flapped his
wings harder, pressing for shore.
He felt better for his decision to be just another one of the Flock.
There 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
Dark! The hollow voice cracked in alarm. Seagulls never fly in the
Jonathan was not alert to listen. It's pretty, he thought. The 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!
There 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!
That'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, left only the narrow swept daggers of his wingtips
extended into the wind, and fell into a vertical dive.
The wind was a monster roar at his head. Seventy miles per hour,
ninety, a hundred and twenty and faster still. The 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 gray cannonball under the
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 fast..
His vows of a moment before were forgotten, swept away in that great
swift 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
By sunup, Jonathan Gull was practicing 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. Then without ceremony he hugged in his forewings,
extended his short, angled wingtips, and plunged direcfly 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 be'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 gigatitic 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 that speed.
Collision would be instant death.
And so he shut his eyes.
It happened that morning, then, just after sunrise, that Ionathan
Livingston Seagull fired directly through the center of Breakfast Flock,
ticking off two hundred twelve miles per hour, eyes closed, in a great
roaring shriek of wind and feathers. The 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 feet below.
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 ritIe ball... and Jonathan had flown the first aerobatics
of any seagull on earth.
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 lift ourselves out of
ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and
intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!
The years ahead hummed and glowed with promise.
The gulls were flocked into the Council Gathering when he landed, and
apparently had been so flocked for some time. They were, in fact, waiting.
"Jonathan Livingston Seagull! Stand to Center!" The Elder's words
sounded in a voice of highest ceremony. Stand to Center meant only great
shame or great honor. Stand to Center for Honor 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 honors. 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 forward.
"Jonathan Livingston Seagull," said the Elder, "Stand to Center 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 roaring in his ears. Centered for shame?
Impossible! The Breakthrough! They can't understand! They're wrong,
"... for his reckless irresponsibility " the solemn voice intoned,
"violating the dignity and tradition of the Gull Family..."
To be centered 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
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 after 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..."
The Flock might as well have been stone.
"The 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 solituile, it was that
other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they
refused to open their eyes and see. 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 learned to
sleep in the air, setting a course at night across the offshore wind,
covering a hundred miles from sunset to sunrise. With the same inner
control, he flew through heavy sea-fogs and climbed above them into
dazzling clear skies... in the very times when every other gull stood on
the ground, knowing nothing but mist and rain. He learned to ride the high
winds far iniand, to dine there on delicate insects.
What he had once hoped for the Flock, he now gained for himself
alone; he learned to fly, and was not sorry for the price that he had
paid. Jonathan Scagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the
reasons that a gull's life is so short, and with these gone from his
thought, he lived a long fine life indeed.
They came in the evening, then, and found Ionathan gliding peaceful
and alone through his beloved sky. The two gulls that appeared at his
wings were pure as starlight, and the glow from them was gentle and
friendly in the high night air. But most lovely of all was the skill with
which they flew, their wingtips moving a precise and constant inch from
his own. Without a word, Jonathan put them to his test, a test that no
gull had ever passed. He twisted his wings, slowed to a single mile per
hour above stall. The two radiant birds slowed with him, smoothly, locked
in position. They knew about slow flying.
He folded his wings, rolled and dropped in a dive to a hundred ninety
miles per hour. They dropped with him, streaking down in flawless
At last he turned that speed straight up into a long vertical
slow-roll. They rolled with him, smiling.
He recovered to level flight and was quiet for a time before he
spoke. "Very well," he said, "who are you?"
"We're from your Flock, Jonathan. We are your brothers." The words
were strong and calm. "We've come to take you higher, to take you home."
"Home I have none. Flock I have none. I am Outcast. And we fly now at
the peak of the Great Mountain Wind. Beyond a few hundred feet, I can lift
this old body no higher."
"But you can Jonathan. For you have learned. One school is finished,
and the time has come for another to begin."
As it had shined across him all his life, so understanding lighted
that moment for Jonathan Seagull. They were right. He could fly higher,
and it was time to go home.
He gave one last look across the sky, across that magnificent silver
land where he had learned so much.
"I'm ready " he said at last.
And Jonathan Livingston Seagull rose with the two starbright gulls to
disappear into a perfect dark sky.
So this is heaven, he thought, and he had to smile at himself. It was
hardly respectful to analyze heaven in the very moment that one flies up
to enter it.
As he came from Earth now, above the clouds and in close formation
with the two brilliant gulls, he saw that his own body was growing as
bright as theirs. True, the same young Jonathan Seagull was there that had
always lived behind his golden eyes, but the outer form had changed.
It felt like a seagull body, but alreadv it flew far better than his
old one had ever flown. Why, with half the effort, he thought, I'll get
twice the speed, twice the performance of my best days on Earth!
His feathers glowed brilliant white now, and his wings were smooth
and perfect as sheets of polished silver. He began, delightedly, to learn
about them, to press power into these new wings.
At two hundred fifty mlles per hour he felt that he was nearing his
level-flight maximum speed. At two hundred seventy-three he thought that
he was flying as fast as he could fly, and he was ever so faintly
disappointed. There was a limit to how much the new body could do, and
though it was much faster than his old level-flight record, it was still a
limit that would take great effort to crack. In heaven, he thought, there
should be no limits.
The clouds broke apart, his escorts called, "Happy landings,
Jonathan," and vanished into thin air.
He was flying over a sea, toward a jagged shoreline. A very few
seagulls were working the updrafts on the cliffs. Away off to the north,
at the horizon itself, flew a few others. New sights, new thoughts, new
questions. Why so few gulls? Heaven should be flocked with gulls! And why
am I so tired, all at once? Gulls in heaven are never supposed to be
tired, or to sleep.
Where had he heard that? The memory of his life on Earth was falling
away. Earth had been a place where he had learned much, of course, but the
details were blurred - something about fighting for food, and being
The dozen gulls by the shoreline came to meet him, none saying a
word. He felt only that he was welcome and that this was home. It had been
a bigday for him, a day whose sunrise he no longer remembered.
He turned to land on the beach, beating his wings to stop an inch in
the air, then dropping lightly to the sand, The other gulls landed too,
but not one of them so much as flapped a feather. They swung into the
wind, bright wings outstretched, then somehow they changed the curve of
their feathers until they had stopped in the same instant their feet
touched the ground. It was beautiful control, but now Jonathan was just
too tired to try it. Standiug there on the beach, still without a word
spoken, he was asleep.
In the days that followed, Jonathan saw that there was as much to
learn about flight in this place as there had been in the life behind him.
But with a difference. Here were gulls who thought as he thought, For each
of them, the most important thing in living was to reach out and touch
perfection in that which they most loved to do, and that was to fly. They
were magnificent birds, all of them, and they spent hour after hour every
day practicing flight, testing advanced aeronautics.
For a long time Jonathan forgot about the world that he had come
from, that place where the Flock lived with its eyes tightly shut to the
joy of flight, using its wings as means to the end of finding and fighting
for food. But now and then, just for a moment, he remembered.
He remembered it one morning when he was out with his instructor,
while they rested on the beach after a session of folded-wing snap rolls.
"Where is everybody, Sullivan?" he asked silently, quite at home now
with the easy telepathy that these gulls used instead of screes and
gracks. "Why aren't there more of us here? Why, where I came from there
"... thousands and thousands of gulls. I know. " Sullivan shook his
head. "The only answer I can see, Jonathan, is that you are pretty well a
one-in-a-million bird. Most of us came along ever so slowly. We went from
one world into another that was almost exactly like it, forgettiug right
away where we had come from, not caring where we were headed, living for
the moment. Do you have any idea how many lives we must have gone through
before we even gor the first idea that there is more to life than eating,
or fighting, or power in the Flock? A thousand lives, Jon, ten thousand!
And then another hundred lives until we began to learn that there is such
a thing as perfection, and another hundred again to get the idea that our
purpose for living is to find that perfection and show it forth. The same
rule holds for us now, of course: we choose our next world through what we
learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this
one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome."
He stretched his wings and turned to face the wind. "But you, Jon,"
he said, "learned so much at one time that you didn't have to go through a
thousand lives to reach this one."
In a moment they were airborne again, practicing. The formation
point-roils were difficult, for through the inverted half Jonathan had to
think upside down, reversing the curve of his wing, and reversing it
exactly in harmony with his instructor's.
"Let's try it again." Sullivan said over and over: "Let's try it
again." Then, finally, "Good." And they began practicing outside loops.
One evening the gulls that were not night-flying stood together on
the sand, thinking. Jonathan took all his courage in hand and walked to
the Elder Gull, who, it was said, was soon to be moving beyond this world.
"Chiang..." he said a little nervously.
The old seagull looked at him kindly. "Yes, my son?" Instead of being
enfeebled by age, the Elder had been empowered by it; he could outfly any
gull in the Flock, and he had learned skills that the others were only
gradually coming to know.
"Chiang, this world isn't heaven at all, is it?" The Elder smiled in
the moonlight. "You are learning again, Jonathan Seagull," he said.
"Well, what happens from here? Where are we going? Is there no such
place as heaven?"
"No, Jonathan, there is no such place. Heaven is not a place, and it
is not a time. Heaven is being perfect." He was silent for a moment. "You
are a very fast flier, aren't you?"
"I... I enjoy speed," Jonathan said, taken aback but proud that the
Elder had noticed.
"You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you
touch perfect speed. And that isn't flying a thousand miles an hour, or a
million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit,
and perfection doesn't have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being
Without warning, Chiang vanished and appeared at the water's edge
fifty feet away, all in the flicker of an instant. Then he vanished again
and stood, in the same millisecond, at Jonathan's shoulder. "It's kind of
fun," he said.
Jonathan was dazzled. He forgot to ask about heaven. "How do you do
that? What does it feel like? How far can you go?"
"You can go to any place and to any time that you wish to go," the
Elder said. "I've gone everywhere and everywhen I can think of." He looked
across the sea. "It's strange. The gulls who scorn perfection for the sake
of travel go nowhere, slowly. Those who put aside travel for the sake of
perfection go anywhere, instantly. Remember, Jonathan, heaven isn't a
place or a time, because place and time are so very meaningless. Heaven
"Can you teach me to fly like that?" Jonathan Seagull trembled to
conquer another unknown.
"Of course if you wish to learn."
"I wish. When can we start?".
"We could start now if you'd like."
"I want to learn to fly like that," Jonathan said and a strange light
glowed in his eyes. "Tell me what to do,"
Chiang spoke slowly and watched the younger gull ever so carefully.
"To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is," he said, "you must begin
by knowing that you have already arrived ..."
The trick, according to Chiang, was for Jonathan to stop seeing
himself as trapped inside a limited body that had a forty-two inch
wingspan and performance that could be plotted on a chart. The trick was
to know that his true nature lived, as perfect as an unwritten number,
everywhere at once across space and time.
Jonathan kept at it, fiercely, day after day, from before sunrise
till past midnight. And for all his effort he moved not a feather width
from his spot.
"Forget about faith!" Chiang said it time and again. "You didn't need
faith to fly, you needed to understand flying.This is jast the same. Now
try again ..."
Then one day Jonathan, standing on the shore, closing his eyes,
concentrating, all in a flash knew what Chiang had been telling him. "Why,
that's true! I am a perfect, unlimited gull!" He felt a great shock of
"Good!" said Chiang and there was victory in his voice.
Jonathan opened his eyes. He stood alone with the Elder on a totally
different seashore - trees down to the water's edge, twin yellow suns
"At last you've got the idea," Chiang said, "but your control needs a
little work... "
Jonathan was stunned. "Where are we?"
Utterly unimpressed with the strange surroundings, the Elder brushed
the question aside. "We're on some planet, obviously, with a green sky and
a double star for a sun."
Jonathan made a scree of delight, the first sound he had made since
he had left Earth. "IT WORKS!"
"Well, of course, it works, Jon." said Chiang. "It always works, when
you know what you're doing. Now about your control..."
By the time they returned, it was dark. The other gulls looked at
Jonathan with awe in their golden eyes, for they had seen him disappear
from where he had been rooted for so long.
He stood their congratulations for less than a minute. "I'm the
newcomer here! I'm just beginning! It is I who must learn from you!"
"I wonder about that, Jon," said Sullivan standing near. "You have
less fear of learning than any gull I've seen in ten thousand years. "The
Flock fell silent, and Jonathan fidgeted in embarrassment.
"We can start working with time if you wish," Chiang said, "till you
can fly the past and the future. And then you will be ready to begin the
most difficult, the most powerful, the most fun of all. You will be ready
to begin to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and of love."
A month went by, or something that felt about like a month, and
Jonathan learned at a tremendous rate. He always had learned quickly from
ordinary experience, and now, the special student of the Elder Himself, he
took in new ideas like a streamlined feathered computer.
But then the day came that Chiang vanished. He had been talking
quietly with them all, exhorting them never to stop their learning and
their practicing and their striving to understand more of the perfect
invisible principle of all life. Then, as he spoke, his feathers went
brighter and brighter and at last turned so brilliant that no gull could
look upon him.
"Jonathan," he said, and these were the last words that he spoke,
"keep working on love."
When they could see again, Chiang was gone.
As the days went past, Jonathan found himself thinking time and again
of the Earth from which he had come. If he had known there just a tenth,
just a hundredth, of what he knew here, how much more life would have
meant! He stood on the sand and fell to wondering if there was a gull back
there who might be struggling to break out of his limits, to see the
meaning of flight beyond a way of travel to get a breadcrumb from a
rowboat. Perhaps there might even have been one made Outcast for speaking
his truth in the face of the Flock. And the more Jonathan practiced his
kindness lessons, and the more he worked to know the nature of love, the
more he wanted to go back to Earth. For in spite of his lonely past,
Jonathan Seagull was born to be an instructor, and his own way of
demonstrating love was to give something of the truth that he had seen to
a gull who asked only a chance to see truth for himself.
Sullivan, adept now at thought-speed flight and helping the others to
learn, was doubrful.
"Jon, you were Outcast once. Why do you think that any of the gulls
in your old time would listen to you now? You know the proverb, and it's
true: The gull sees farthest who flies highest. Those gulls where you came
from are standing on the ground, squawking and fighting among themselves.
They're a thousand miles from heaven - and you say you want to show them
heaven from where they stand! Jon, they can't see their own wingtips! Stay
here. Help the new gulls here, the ones who are high enough to see what
you have to tell them." He was quiet for a moment, and then he said, "What
if Chiang had gone back to his old worlds? Where would you have been
The last point was the telling one, and Sullivan was right The gull
sees farthest who flies highest.
Jonathan stayed and worked with the new birds coming in, who were all
very bright and quick with their lessons. But the old feeling came back,
and he couldn't help but think that there might be one or two gulls back
on Earth who would be able to learn, too. How much more would he have
known by now if Chiang had come to him on the day that he was Outcast!
"Sully, I must go back " he said at last "Your students are doing
well. They can help you bring the newcomers along."
Sullivan sighed, but he did not argue. "I think I'll miss you,
Jonathan," was all he said.
"Sully, for shame!" Jonathan said in reproach, "and don't be foolish!
What are we trying to practice every day? If our friendship depends on
things like space and time, then when we finally overcome space and time,
we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have
left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the
middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once
Sullivan Seagull laughed in spite of himself. "You crazy bird," he
said kindly. "If anybody can show someone on the ground how to see a
thousand miles, it will be Jonathan Livingston Seagull." He looked at the
sand. "Good-bye, Jon, my friend."
"Good bye, Sully. We'll meet again." And with that, Jonathan held in
thought an image of the great gull flocks on the shore of another time,
and he knew with practiced ease that he was not bone and feather but a
perfect idea of freedom and flight, limited by nothing at all.
Fletcher Lynd Seagull was still quite young, but already he knew that
no bird had ever been so harshly treated by any Flock, or with so much
"I don't care what they say," he thought fiercely, and his vision
blurred as he flew out toward the Far Cliffs. "There's so much more to
flying than just flapping around from place to place! A... a... mosquito
does that! One little barrel roll around the Elder Gull, just for fun, and
I'm Outcast! Are they blind? Can't they see? Can't they think of the glory
that it'll be when we really learn to fly?
"I don't care what they think. I'll show them what flying is! I'll be
pure Outlaw, if that's the way they want it. And I'll make them so
The voice came inside his own head, and though it was very gentle, it
startled him so much that he faltered and stumbled in the air.
"Don't be harsh on them, Fletcher Seagull. In casting you out, the
other gulls have only hurt themselves, and one day they will know this,
and one day they will see what you see. Forgive them, and help them to
An inch from his right wingtip flew the most brilliant white gull in
all the world, gliding effortlessly along, not moving a feather, at what
was very nearly Fletcher's top speed.
There was a moment of chaos in the young bird. "What's going on? Am I
mad? Am I dead? What is this?"
Low and calm, the voice went on within his thought, demanding an
answer. "Fletcher Lynd Seagull, do you want to fly?"
"YES, I WANT TO FLY!".
"Fletcher Lynd Seagull, do you want to fly so much that you will
forgive the Flock, and learn, and go back to them one day and work to help
There was no lying to this magniflcent skillful being, no matter how
proud or how hurt a bird was Fletcher Seagull.
"I do " he said softly.
"Then, Fletch," that bright creature said to him, and the voice was
very kind, "let's begin with Level Flight...."
Jonathan circled slowly over the Far Cliffs, watching. This rough
young Fletcher Gull was very nearly a perfect flight-student. He was
strong and light and quick in the air, but far and away more important, he
had a blazing drive to learn to fly.
Here he came this minute, a blurred gray shape roaring out of a dive,
flashing one hundred fifty miles per hour past his instructor. He pulled
abruptly into another try at a sixteen point vertical slow roll, calling
the points out loud.
"...eight... nine... ten... see-Jonathan-l'm-running-out-ofairspeed..
eleven... I-want-good-sharp-stops-like yours... twelve...
but-blast-it-Ijust-can't-make... - thirteen... theselast-three-points...
without... fourtee ...aaakk!"
Fletcher's whipstall at the top was all the worse for his rage and
fury at failing. He fell backward, tumbled, slammed savagely into an
inverted spin, and recovered at last, panting, a hundred feet below his
"You're wasting your time with me, Jonathan! I'm too dumb! I'm too
stupid! I try and try, but I'll never get it!"
Jonathan Seagull looked down at him and nodded. "You'll never get it
for sure as long as you make that pullup so hard. Fletcher, you lost forty
miles an hour in the entry! You have to be smooth! Firm but smooth,
He dropped down to the level of the younger gull."Let's try it
together now, in formation. And pay attention to that pullup. It's a
smooth, easy entry."
By the end of three months Jonathan had six other students, Outcasts
all, yet curious about this strange new idea of flight for the joy of
Still, it was easier for them to practice high performance than it
was to understand the reason behindit.
"Each of us is in truth an idea of the Great Gull, an unlimited idea
of freedom," Jonathan would say in the evenings on the beach, "and
precision flying is a step toward expressing our real nature.Everything
that limits us we have to put aside. That's why all this high-speed
practice, and low speed, and aerobatics...."
...and his students would be asleep, exhausted from the day's flying.
They liked the practice, because it was fast and exciting and it fed a
hunger for learning that grew with every lesson. But not one of them, not
even Fletcher Lynd Gull, had come to believe that the flight of ideas
could possibly be as real as the flight of wind and feather.
"Your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip," Jonathan would say, other
times, "is nothing more than your thought itself, in a form you can see.
Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains of your body,
too..." But no matter how he said it, it sounded like pleasant fiction,
and they needed more to sleep.
It was only a month later that Jonathan said the time had come to
return to the Flock.
"We're not ready!" said Henry Calvin Gull. "We're not welcome! We're
Outcast! We can't force ourselves to go where we're not welcome, can we?"
"We're free to go where we wish and to be what we are," Jonathan
answered, and he lifted from the sand and turned east, toward the home
grounds of the Flock.
There was brief anguish among his students, for it is the Law of the
Flock that an Outcast never returns, and the Law had not been broken once
in ten thousand years. The Law said stay; Jonathan said go; and by now he
was a mile across the water. If they waited much longer, he would reach a
hostile Flock alone.
"Well, we don't have to obey the law if we're not a part of the
Flock, do we?" Fletcher said, rather self-consciously. "Besides, if
there's a fight we'll be a lot more help there than here."'
And so they flew in from the west that morning, eight of them in a
double-diamond formation, wingtips almost overlapping. They came across
the Flock's Council Beach at a hundred thirty-five miles per hour,
Jonathan in the lead. Fletcher smoothly at his right wing, Henry Calvin
struggling gamely at his left. Then the whole formation rolled slowly to
the right, as one bird... level... to... inverted... to... level, the wind
whipping over them all.
The squawks and grockles of everyday life in the Flock were cut off
as though the formation were a giant knife, and eight thousand gull-eyes
watched, without a single blink. One by one, each of the eight birds
pulled sharply upward into a full loop and flew all the way around to a
dead-slow stand-up landing on the sand. Then as though this sort of thing
happened every day, Jonathan Seagull began his critique of the flight.
"To begin with," he said with a wry smile, "you were all a bit late
on the join-up..."
It went like lightning through the Flock. Those birds are Outcast!
And they have returned! And that... that can't happen! Fletcher's
predictions of battle melted in the Flock's confusion.
"Well sure, O.K. they're Outcast," said some of the younger gulls,
"but hey, man, where did they learn to fly like that?"
It took almost an hour for the Word of the Elder to pass through the
Flock: Ignore them. The gull who speaks to an Outcast is himself Outcast.
The gull who looks upon an Outcast breaks the Law of the Flock,
Gray-feathered backs were turned upon Jonathan from that moment onward,
but he didn't appear to notice. He held his practice sessions directly
over the Council Beach and for the first time began pressing his students
to the limit of their ability.
"Martin Gull!" he shouted across the sky. "You say you know low-speed
flying. You know nothing till you prove it! FLY!"
So quiet little Martin William Seagull, startled to be caught under
his instructor's fire, surprised himself and became a wizard of low
speeds. In the lightest breeze he could curve his feathers to lift himself
without a single flap of wing from sand to cloud and down again.
Likewise Charles-Roland Gull flew the Great Mountain Wind to
twenty-four thousand feet, came down blue from the cold thin air, amazed
and happy, determined to go still higher tomorrow.
Fletcher Seagull, who loved aerobatics like no one else, conquered
his sixteen point vertical slow roll and the next day topped it off with a
triple cartwheel, his feathers flashing white sunlight to a beach from
which more than one furtive eye watched.
Every hour Jonathan was there at the side of each of his students,
demonstrating, suggesting, pressuring, guiding. He flew with them through
night and cloud and storm, for the sport of it, while the Flock huddled
miserably on the ground.
When the flying was done, the students relaxed in the sand, and in
time they listened more closely to Jonathan. He had some crazy ideas that
they couldn't understand, but then he had some good ones that they could.
Gradually, in the night, another circle formed around the circle of
students a circle of curious gulls listening in the darkness for hours on
end, not wishing to see or be seen of one another, fading away before
It was a month after the Return that the first gull of the Flock
crossed the line and asked to learn how to fly. In his asking, Terrence
Lowell Gull became a condemned bird, labeled Outcast; and the eighth of
The next night from the Flock came Kirk Maynard Gull, wobbling across
the sand, dragging his leftwing,to collapse at Jonathan's feet. "Help me,"
he said very quietly, speaking in the way that the dying speak. "I want to
fly more than anything else in the world..."
"Come along then." said Jonathan. "Climb with me away from the
ground, and we'll begin."
"You don't understand My wing. I can't move my wing."
"Maynard Gull, you have the freedom to be yourself, your true self,
here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.It is the Law of the Great
Gull, the Law that Is."
"Are you saying I can fly?"
"I say you are free."
As simply and as quickly as that, Kirk Maynard Gull spread his wings,
effortlessly, and lifted into the dark night air. The Flock was roused
from sleep by his cry, as loud as he could scream it, from five hundred
feet up: "I can fly! Listen! I CAN FLY!"
By sunrise there were nearly a thousand birds standing outside the
circle of students, looking curiously at Maynard. They didn't care whether
they were seen or not, and they listened, trying to understand Jonathan
He spoke of very simple things - that it is right for a guil to fly,
that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against
that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation
in any form.
"Set aside," came a voice from the multitude, "even if it be the Law
of the Flock?"
"The only true law is that which leads to freedom," Jonathan said.
"There is no other."
"How do you expect us to fly as you fly?" came another voice. "You
are special and gifted and divine, above other birds."
"Look at Fletcher! Lowell! Charles-Roland! Judy Lee! Are they also
special and gifted and divine? No more than you are, no more than I am.
The only difference, the very only one, is that they have begun to
understand what they really are and have begun to practice it."
His students, save Fletcher, shifted uneasily. They hadn't realized
that this was what they were doing.
The crowd grew larger every day, coming to question, to idolize, to
"They are saying in the Flock that if you are not the Son of the
Great Gull Himself," Fletcher told Jonathan one morning after Advanced
Speed Practice, "then you are a thousand years ahead of your time."
Jonathan sighed. The price of being misunderstood, he thought. They
call you devil or they call you god. "What do you think, Fletch? Are we
ahead of our time?"
A long silence. "Well, this kind of flying has always been here to be
learned by anybody who wanted to discover it; that's got nothing to do
with time. We're ahead of the fashion, maybe, Ahead of the way that most
"That's something," Jonathan said rolling to glide inverted for a
while. "That's not half as bad as being ahead of our time."
It happened just a week later. Fletcher was demonstrating the
elements of high-speed flying to a class of new students. He had just
pulled out of his dive from seven thousand feet, a long gray streak firing
a few inches above the beach, when a young bird on its first flight glided
directly into his path, calling for its mother. With a tenth of a second
to avoid the youngster, Fletcher Lynd Seagull snapped hard to the left, at
something over two hundred miles per hour, into a cliff of solid granite.
It was, for him, as though the rock were a giant hard door into
another world. A burst of fear and shock and black as he hit, and then he
was adrift in a strange strange sky, forgetting, remembering, forgetting;
afraid and sad and sorry, terribly sorry.
The voice came to him as it had in the first day that he had met
Jonathan Livingston Seagull,
"The trick Fletcher is that we are trying to overcome our limitations
in order, patiently, We don't tackle flying through rock until a little
later in the program."
"Also known as the Son of the Great Gull " his instructor said dryly,
"What are you doing here? The cliff! Haven't I didn't I.., die?"
"Oh, Fletch, come on. Think. If you are talking to me now, then
obviously you didn't die, did you? What you did manage to do was to change
your level of consciousness rather abruptly. It's your choice now. You can
stay here and learn on this level - which is quite a bit higher than the
one you left, by the way - or you can go back and keep working with the
Flock. The Elders were hoping for some kind of disaster, but they're
startled that you obliged them so well."
"I want to go back to the Flock, of course. I've barely begun with
the new group!"
"Very well, Fletcher. Remember what we were saying about one's body
being nothing more than thought itself....?"
Fletcher shook his head and stretched his wings and opened his eyes
at the base of the cliff, in the center of the whole Flock assembled.
There was a great clamor of squawks and screes from the crowd when first
"He lives! He that was dead lives!"
"Touched him with a wingtip! Brought him to life! The Son of the
"No! He denies it! He's a devil! DEVIL! Come to break the Flock!"
There were four thousand gulls in the crowd, frightened at what had
happened, and the cry DEVIL! went through them like the wind of an ocean
storm. Eyes glazed, beaks sharp, they closed in to destroy.
"Would you feel better if we left, Fletcher?" asked Jonathan.
"I certainly wouldn't object too much if we did..."
Instantly they stood together a half-mile away, and the flashing
beaks of the mob closed on empty air.
"Why is it," Jonathan puzzled, "that the hardest thing in the world
is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for
himself if he'd just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so
Fletcher still blinked from the change of scene. "What did you just
do? How did we get here?"
"You did say you wanted to be out of the mob, didn't you?"
"Yes! But how did you..."
"Like everything else, Fletcher. Practice." By morning the Flock had
forgotten its insanity, but Fletcher had not. "Jonathan, remember what you
said a long time ago, about loving the Flock enough to return to it and
help it learn?"
"I don't understand how you manage to love a mob of birds that has
just tried to kill you."
"Oh, Fletch, you don't love that! You don't love hatred and evil, of
course. You have to practice and see the real gull, the good in every one
of them, and to help them see it in themselves. That's what I mean by
love. It's fun, when you get the knack of it.
"I remember a fierce young bird for instance, Fletcher Lynd Seagull,
his name. Just been made Outcast, ready to fight the Flock to the death,
getting a start on building his own bitter hell out on the Far Cliffs. And
here he is today building his own heaven instead, and leading the whole
Flock in that direction."
Fletcher turned to his instructor, and there was a moment of fright
in his eye. "Me leading? What do you mean, me leading? You're the
instructor here. You couldn't leave!"
"Couldn't I? Don't you think that there might be other flocks, other
Fletchers, that need an instructor more than this one, that's on its way
toward the light?"
"Me? Jon, I'm just a plain seagull and you're... "
" ...the only Son of the Great Gull, I suppose?" Jonathan sighed and
looked out to sea. "You don't need me any longer. You need to keep finding
yourself, a little more each day, that real, unlimited Fletcher Seagull.
He's your in structor. You need to understand him and to practice him."
A moment later Jonathan's body wavered in the air, shimmering, and
began to go transparent. "Don't let them spread silly rumors about me, or
make me a god. O.K., Fletch? I'm a seagull. I like to fly, maybe..."
"Poor Fletch. Don't believe what your eyes are telling you. All they
show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you
already know, and you'll see the way to fly."
The shimmering stopped. Jonathan Seagull had vanished into empty air.
After a time, Fletcher Gull dragged himself into the sky and faced a
brand-new group of students, eager for their first lesson.
"To begin with " he said heavily, "you've got to understand that a
seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull, and
your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip, is nothing more than your
The young gulls looked at him quizzically. Hey, man, they thought,
this doesn't sound like a rule for a loop.
Fletcher sighed and started over. "Hm. Ah... very well," he said, and
eyed them critically. "Let's begin with Level Flight." And saying that, he
understood all at once that his friend had quite honestly been no more
divine than Fletcher himself.
No limits, Jonathan? he thought. Well, then, the time's not distant
when I'm going to appear out of thin air on your beach, and show you a
thing or two about flying!
And though he tried to look properly severe for his students,
Fletcher Seagull suddenly saw them all as they really were, just for a
moment, and he more than liked, he loved what he saw. No limits, Jonathan?
he thought, and he smiled. His race to learn had begun.
The New York Times, July 3, 1974
Des Moines, Iowa, July 2 - John H. Livingston, the man who
inspired the best-selling novel "Jonathan Livingston Seagull,"
died Sunday at the Pompano Beach (Fla.) Airport soon after
completing his last plane ride.
Richard Bach, a former Iowa Air Guard pilot, has said his
best-selling book about a free-wheeling seagull was inspired by
Johnny Livingston, as he was known, moved many years ago
from Iowa to Florida. He was one of the country's top pilots
during the barnstorming days of the nineteen-twenties and thir
From 1928 through 1933, Mr. Livingston won 79 first
places, 43 seconds and 15 thirds in 139 races throughout the
country, many of them at Cleveland. He won first place and
$13,910 in 1928 in a cross-country race from New York to Los
Mr. Livingston leaves his wife, Wavelle, two brothers and
Last-modified: Tue, 22 Jul 1997 19:59:49 GMT
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