The Overburdened Albatross

Laysan_Albatross_RWD2There are creatures in the world who love to collect things. Lots of things.

There’s the bowerbird of Australia and New Guinea, who assembles a collection of brightly colored objects (from shells to flowers) to impress a potential mate. There’s the pack rat of the Americas, who will use anything and everything to construct a nest.

And then there’s people. We might be the greatest collectors of all. We are amazing.

If there’s one creature who shouldn’t, and doesn’t, collect a lot of things, it’s the albatross. They spend most of their time far out at sea, gliding on the trade winds over the ocean, landing on the water’s surface from time to time to snatch a meal. Sometimes it’s fish, sometimes it’s squid. They like squid.

You don’t think squid sounds very tasty? Some people like it better if you call it calamari.

Did that help?

Whether you like squid or calamari (or neither), it’s a difficult life for a collector. Nevertheless, there was once a young albatross who set out to do precisely that. I have no idea why.

He started with pebbles he found along the shoreline near the nest where he’d been hatched and grown to become a young adult. I guess he found the colors or the shapes interesting, and they made a nice addition to the nest. Then he added different kinds of grasses that he found. When the old ones blew away, he brought new ones.

Soon there were sea shells piled around his nesting spot, and inevitably the trash that humans leave behind. Some albatrosses get very sick by eating these things, but he just picked them up and put them down again. There were bits of plastic, and shreds of cloth, and his grandest prize of all: the better part of a beach blanket that had floated away from somebody one day.

That wasn’t any of yours, was it? Oh, good.

As his collection got bigger, his circle of friends got smaller. Not because they objected to his hobby, no: but because the season was passing, and they started leaving the nesting site. They were riding the winds out over the Pacific Ocean, with an occasional descent to the surface to catch calamari.

Or squid, if you prefer.

But this young albatross didn’t want to leave his collection. Oh, he tried to take it with him. He wanted to soar over the ocean, too. But when he tried to carry everything on his back, between his wings, he couldn’t manage to take off. When the load was light enough to fly, everything tumbled off. He tried gripping things in his beak, but he quickly realized that he couldn’t eat that way. It’s hard to hold things in a webbed foot, and when he wanted to use two feet to carry things, well, he found that it didn’t work.

And it was also painful.

Finally, it was hunger that made him see the true worth of his piles of pebbles and shells and even the magnificent beach towel. However lovely they might appear to his eyes, they didn’t feed him. No, they didn’t feed him.

Not the way that the skies of the Pacific fed him. Not the way that the waters of the Pacific fed him. And certainly not the way that the squid (or the calamari) of the Pacific fed him.

So he stepped carefully away from his collection, gave it one last look, spread his broad wings, leaped into the air: and flew.

Photo credit: By DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18611723

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