Baby Albatrosses

Today, I was privileged to see a baby albatross in the wild. Actually, it was not only one, but several—there, right there in front of me, waiting for their mothers to fly out of the Hawaiian sky with food. One caught my attention: larger than life and ready to fly, yet unable to leave the ground. Stretching its wings into the breeze that pushed past the ragged brush on the ground. Willing but as yet unable to join its kind in the clear blue sky.

As I watched, I was amazed at how tame it was, how incredibly comfortable it seemed around all these men working on the golf course I was playing. They were hurriedly going about their jobs: cutting the grass, flattening the greens and placing the flag poles in the correct positions on each hole. Yet, as if in their own little parallel avian universe, stood these magnificent young birds, just waiting, watching and praying for their mothers to return with food.

The albatross has the largest wingspan of any bird on earth, and the wingspan on this baby was at least six feet. Its body was about two and a half feet tall. It was far from full-grown, but I learnt that once they take to flight, adult albatrosses will disappear for five years, circumnavigating the globe, gliding on thermals and not touching the earth for months at a time. Then they will return to this very spot to mate and breed. That’s an apt metaphor for people like me who rush pell-mell around the world on one mission or another, rarely stopping in one place for long.

Someone nearby informed me that the parents of these young aviators were more than 40 years old. I had no idea that these birds lived so long. It’s worth a brief digression from my daily bashing of idiosyncratic American behaviors to share this moment with everyone—a moment that doesn’t come along but more than once in a short lifetime. We are all circumnavigators, riding the winds as best we can, trying to make it back home.

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