Sunday, February 4, 2007
the idea of flight
Only once in my life,
have I seen an albatross flying.
It was early, and something made me turn my face to the sky,as it passed directly above. It was enormous, wing tip to wingtip, white mottled with brown. Large beak, curved down at the end. It seemed as if those few seconds were longer than normal, but it was cruising at speed, and disappeared.
Later, at the wildlife hospital with a little shearwater, I asked if I could raise it , instead of having it euthanased. The doctor explained that seabirds never come to land, except to breed. They spend their entire lives at sea, flying, fishing, resting on the surface of the water.
I imagined all those big albatrosses endlessly soaring over the oceans, and never coming to land. You just have to believe that they are there, for you'll not ever see one, (unless you are a longline fisherperson and catch one nastily on your line )
or unless you have a fortunate moment. like me. A sort of "act of faith" in believing that the birds even exist at all, given the lack of evidence.
I found an expired albatross, washed up on the shore last week. It was wet, and bedraggled. Fish had eaten its innards, right out of its chest cavity, but the rest was there. The feathers hung like string.
I dragged it up onto the dry , where the white sand shone with endless sun and ghost crabs hid from the heat.
By noon, it was dry and clean, and with a brief closing of eyes in apology, I took its wing bones.
They were long and white, hollow like pieces of bound air, hardly like bones at all.
The next day, the ghost crabs had cleaned the rest. I took its head,like a barbarian crouching over the vanquished, I took its skull, and all its feathers.
The bones were white , hollow and flute-like, speaking to me of the weightlessness of flight. The curving beak told me of its albatross-pedigree, and the chest feathers, gleaming like snow, remembered their own reflection on the icy surface of the Southern ocean.
Empty eyes showed me a landless horizon, whitecaps all around, and the memory of endless flight. Evidence, in my hands, of elsewhere