To the real
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
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 brickhard sea.
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
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 the beach.
Dark! The hollow voice cracked in alarm. Seagulls never
fly in the dark!
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
There in the night, a hundred feet in the air,
Jonathan Livingston Seagull - blinked. His pain, his
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 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 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 promise.
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
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
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
"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
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 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 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 inland, 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
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
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 Outcast.
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
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 were.. "
"... 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
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
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
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 there."
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 joy.
"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 turning overhead.
"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
"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
"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
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 today?"
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 injustice.
"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 sorry..."
The voice came inside his own head, and though it was very
gentle, it startled him so much that he faltered and stumbled in
"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 understand."
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 them know?"
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
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...
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 instructor's level.
"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, remember?"
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 flying.
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
...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
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
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
"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
"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
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 daybreak.
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 Jonathan's students.
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
"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
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 Seagull.
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,
"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
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 gulls fly."
"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
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
"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 moved.
"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
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
"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 hard?"
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
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
After a time, Fletcher Gull dragged himself into the sky and
faced a brand-new group of students, eager for their first
"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 thought itself."
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