On a particularly sunny and warm January day, my intern friend Laura and I went to Siesta Key beach, expecting a day of relaxation thrown in with some sand volleyball. While I brought a towel, lunch, book, and sunblock, I did not bring with me the foresight that my Bananagrams game posed a threat to the native wildlife population.
If you’ve not yet been privy to the excitement and energy characteristic of this word game (enhanced by shouts of banana-themed terms—“peel,” “split,” and “bunch” to name a few), then I recommend you put down this paper immediately, rev the engine, and head to the nearest Target. All you need to know for the upcoming tale is that there is one and only one component to this game: plastic letter tiles, equivalent to those of Scrabble.
Laura and I pounded a flat surface into the sand for our playing field and laid out the “bunch” of tiles face down. Deep into Spelling 101, our eyes missed the encroaching sea gull until he was on top of the grab pile of letters. Just as he pecked a tile and clutched it in his beak, Laura shouted incoherent, incomplete sounds, enough hogwash to startle the gull into dropping the tile. Breathing a sigh of relief, we placed the tile back among the others and continued the game, on guard for further ambushes.
Anyone who has played this game before knows that Bananagrams casts a spell on you, effectively blocking out the rest of the world so that it is only you and a smattering of consonants and vowels. As such, try as we might, Laura and I were incapable of spreading our focus to the surrounding sand, subsequently unaware of the same gull coming back for more. One would think he learned the first time that the tiles are flavorless pieces of indigestible synthetic material. But he must have thought they were covered in peanut butter and jelly, for the second attack on our Bananagrams was successful. The gull snatched a letter from the center of our game and hopped toward the receding tide as my opponent and I united against him, chasing the bird in the hopes that he would not swallow the tile. I’ll admit, this hope was as much for the bird’s survival as it was for the sake of word games.
Racing after the bouncing feathered thief, Laura and I realized we left all of the remaining tiles unattended, a fifteen-course meal for any other curious plumaged friends. Jointly, we turned back toward our towels, simultaneously realizing that now neither of us had eyes on the bird. Spinning around, we watched him lift off in flight over the ocean, landing twenty yards out by the buoys. Admitting defeat, we pulled a protective layer of towels and t-shirts over the game and commenced play.
Not more than five minutes later, a man called to us, “He’s on shore!” One of numerous beach-goers who witnessed the ordeal, this man had kept eyes on the gull, tracking him from ocean to land. Laura and I pulled our cotton barriers over the Bananagrams remnants and began weaving in and out of children, sand castles, and chairs, pointing to birds as we went. We turned to the man each time, awaiting either a head nod or a hand motion letting us know how close we were to the sea gull.
The further we traveled down the beach, the less tuned into the show people were, giving us strange and curious looks. Eventually, we came across the crook, but as luck would have it, the moment we stepped forward, all sea gulls in a twenty-foot radius took off into the air, leaving us with an unidentifiable flock of whirring barbules and beaks. We cannot know for sure whether or not the bird swallowed the tile. It’s possible that he spit it out at sea, and a father will be walking with his six-year-old son when he hears, “Look, Daddy! Part of the alphabet!” If the tile did wash ashore, it didn’t happen while Laura and I were still there.
At the very least, the gull could have stolen an X or a Z. We tallied up the letters at the conclusion of our game only to find that we were one vowel short. Goodbye, letter I.
If the bird swallowed the tile, he showed no signs of distress. I was ready to perform an extraction if necessary. I’ve heard stories of tigers and ostriches and penguins in zoos swallowing pennies, paper clips, and hair bands. I’ve rehabilitated sea turtles that have swallowed fishing line, balloons, and plastic bags. I don’t litter—in fact I pick up stray trash on the beach and in parks. I’m careful about what I have with me when I’m by the water, no Ziploc bags for one. But I never expected a sea gull to be so bold. This story makes me laugh every time I tell it (and get a little bit peeved that my Bananagrams is incomplete), but it also made me increasingly more aware of my impact on wildlife, even when completely unintentional. I know that the gulls of crowded Siesta Key beach are abundant and greedy. I’m going to Siesta again next week. As much as I’m dying to have a letter battle of epic proportions, I’m going to bring my electronic Catchphrase instead. I find it highly unlikely that any bird will go after that half a pound, six-inch long beeping machine.