It appeared out of nowhere on a calm, clear morning last July — the largest seagull I have ever seen, with a black back and a bright orange beak — sitting motionless on the verdant front lawn of our rental overlooking Stonewall Beach.

We were on the Island for our twenty-third consecutive summer — my four older children, ages 54 to 49, with assorted spouses, grandchildren and step-grandchildren. My youngest son Jonathan, age 37, was joining us in a few days. This was our first July back on the Island since the sudden and senseless death of his brother Bo at age 39 at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York city the previous July, 2008. Bo was an artist, poet, dancer, stand-up comic — a creative genius whose dazzling smile charmed the world. Everybody loved Bo. And Bo loved the Vineyard.

Now, a year after his death, each one of us returning to the house on Stonewall has brought shared memories of past summers and unshared fears regarding this one. Without Bo, would the Island hold the same magic?

When I looked again, the gull was hopping toward the house on one leg, his huge right wing drooping to the ground. Clearly the bird was seriously injured. I consulted with Teke, my 49-year-old son, here from Dallas, and Lisa, 51, my only daughter, here from Pittsburgh. Should we leave this giant seagull alone or try to rescue it? We agreed that I should make some calls.

The first one, to the local police, was fruitless. “I’m so sorry,” I was told. “We do not rescue birds here in Chilmark.”

My second call was also fruitless. I phoned Gus Ben David, owner of the World of Reptiles and Bird Park in Edgartown, former director of Mass Audubon’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. Gus is legendary in the world of naturalists; his knowledge and love of birds is profound. I was certain he could help in some way. Unfortunately, I got his answering machine, but I left a long message.

Meanwhile the huge gull had made its way up onto our deck, then slowly and painstakingly hopped back down onto the lawn. “Don’t get too close!” I warned Teke’s son Cruz, my sweet-natured, tousled-haired five-year-old grandson. “Seagulls can bite.”

Within the hour, Gus called back; I described the gull’s injuries. “There is no hope,” he told me. “But if you’re willing to bring the bird to me, I will euthanize it. Otherwise, if you leave it alone, it will eventually die, probably in the bushes on your property.”

Teke, Lisa and I agreed to capture the bird for transport to the World of Reptiles in Edgartown. Gus had instructed me well. We found a box with a lid in the garage; Teke threw a beach towel over the bird, gathered it up, put it in the box and sealed the lid with tape. “You don’t want that gull jumping out of the box and menacing everyone while you’re driving,” Gus had warned me.

Teke drove his van to Edgartown with me in the passenger seat, Cruz in his car seat in the back, the seagull in his box in the way back. Gus greeted us when we got to the park. He snatched the bird deftly from the box, tucking it under his arm. “That’s a great black-backed gull — the largest species of seagull. But this poor bird is nothing but feather and bone. He’s starving to death — was probably injured three weeks ago.” Then he spread out the injured wing. “You can see how the muscle has already necrotized,” he commented.

A shudder passed through my body when I heard the word “necrotized.” Bo had died of necrotizing fasciitis, commonly known as the flesh-eating disease — a virulent form of strep that usually enters the body through a cut or blister. Initially it attacks a muscle, liquefying it and often necessitating an amputation. If it’s not caught in time — as in Bo’s case — it rapidly attacks all vital organs. By the time the doctors recognized it, it was too late. In all my 76 years, I had never heard that word before his death. And now, from Gus, I’ve heard it again.

Gus whisked the bird off into his basement, returning to show us around. Cruz was fascinated by the exotic collection. Huge snakes curled around themselves in their terrariums; rare birds fluttered in their cages on the property; a huge tortoise basked in his pen. Soon it was time to drive home for lunch. On the way back to Chilmark we were silent, each reviewing the events of the morning in our minds. Suddenly Cruz piped up from the back seat: “Daddy, why did the seagull have to die?”

I thought back to the day of Bo’s death a year ago in July 2008, when sweet Cruz had asked the very same question: “Daddy, why did Uncle Bo have to die?” Then it occurred to me that for two consecutive summers on this magical Island, my innocent five-year-old grandson had been brushed by death. Back at the house, he was his usual carefree self, sprinting around the lawn with his soccer ball.

I don’t know why that gigantic, wounded bird showed up on our property last summer. Lately I’ve learned that numerous myths have linked birds to the journeys undertaken by human souls after death. Birds appear in Hindu mythology as symbols of the soul or as forms taken by the soul between earthly lives. The Greeks and Celts believed the dead could reappear as birds. Recently, during our Sunday morning phone calls, I asked Lisa and Teke for their recollections of the day of the seagull. “That was so bizarre,” Lisa told me. “In all the years we’ve been coming here, we’ve never before encountered an injured animal.” Teke found it “eerie and disturbing . . . the timing so poignant just two weeks after the first anniversary of Bo’s death.”

This summer, 2010, back again on Stonewall, I’ll be slowing down — living off the land and the sea, living closer to nature, living one day, sometimes one hour, at a time. I’ll be thinking about Bo — I still miss him terribly. A friend who knew and loved him told me that his spirit is all around us, even if we don’t recognize it, touching us in different ways. I’ll be waiting, watching, listening . . . hoping to find him again on this Island that he loved beyond reason.

Joan Bowman lives in Short Hills, N.J., and Chilmark and contributes regularly to the Gazette Commentary Page.