It’s happened to all of us…more than once. We get the question, “if you could be any animal would what you be?” (and I include birds, fish, etc in possible answers) Well, we may know what we want to be, but what are we really? I mean, it’s cool to be a jaguar or a lion, or it would be wonderful to be a horse but I think we all embody the spirit and character of some species other than human, and it’s different for all of us. I happen to be an albatross.
In 1999 I had the good fortune to visit the Galapagos Islands, a surreal volcanic archipelago about 1000 km west of Ecuador. Also known as being the place that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution. Now, for a curious person that is a haven, a place to ask a million questions, a place to move slowly, to be open to possibility, and to be astonished.
I saw and walked and swam among giant turtles, dolphins, sea lions, and a plethora of other delightful creatures. But the one that stood out the most for me was the albatross. I was enamoured with this large seabird, and as I learned more about them my love for them grew.
What is about the albatross that is so captivating? Well, for one thing they are seabirds, and I have always felt (and even more so in recent years) drawn to the sea. There is no sound that I cherish more than that of waves, whether they be gently rolling in like a sail unfurling or crashing thunderously on the shore like a wrecking ball. And the thought of living by the sea and interacting with it every day makes me giddy. Plus, I love to surf.
But there are many seabirds, so why the albatross? Well, of all the knowledge and wisdom that our wonderful guide Maya imparted on us during that trip the thing that stood out the most for me was that the albatross doesn't have the capacity to take off from the ground like other birds. They must either leap off a cliff and soar, or rest on the water until the right combination of waves and wind allows them to lift off. They leap, and then they soar. They can soar 1000 km a day without flapping their wings. It’s effortless. And when they can’t leap they sit on the water and use the rising air on the windward side of large waves to lift them off. Talk about resourceful. They leap off cliffs when they want to go somewhere. And after they land they have no idea when the wind will allow them to take off again. They just trust that the right combination of wind and waves will come along. I totally identify with that as someone who has been leaping off metaphorical cliffs my whole life.
And then there’s the landings. They don’t land gracefully, but they trust that they will survive. Since I was small I have wanted to fly, and when I think of what bird I would be it is definitely an albatross. To be able to cover great distance without expending unnecessary energy would be such a gift. To float in the air and trust my wings and the wind to keep me going would be so freeing.
I have felt that freedom. I have felt the exhilaration of leaping off the cliff when I left ‘home’ to go to university and when I moved to Mexico, and then Ecuador, and when I left teaching to open a ski shop, and when I have embarked on adventures without a clue as to how they would unfold. And I have felt the soft landings on the water and the bumpy, bruising landings as well, and yet I continue to leap. That’s not to say that it is not scary, because often times it is. But I like the goosebumps and the butterflies and the hair rising on the back of my neck. I like not knowing…because I love surprises. When I forget that, and try to control life I have a lot less fun. It feels like work.
I have been there too. There have been times that I have stood at the edge of that cliff and been absolutely paralyzed by the enormity of the ‘consequences’ of leaping. By the uncertainty and risk. And so I stayed safe on land and wondered what I may have missed out on. I saw my parents live most a lot of their lives like that. And there have been times when I have had to sit on the water waiting, waiting for the wind to pick up and give me enough lift to fly again. And sometimes I forget that I am an albatross and I try in vain to flap my wings hard enough to get lifted into the air and carried on my way. To no avail. But the albatross doesn't work that hard, it uses its wisdom and seemingly infinite patience to get where it needs to go. Like a surfer waiting quietly for the right set to come along and carry them away. I have always struggled with that, and continue to work on patience. It requires so much trust, that eventually if I am aware and alert enough and can recognize the signs, that right combination of wind and wave will give me lift off, or carry my surfboard. Trust in the invisible. Trust that unimaginable energy exists in the wind and the waves. Trust that I will know when to move, and what direction to go in. The albatross has much to teach us. Who knew??
And, while it may not be known for it’s beauty or intelligence, albatrosses were often regarded as the souls of lost sailors, and I’m okay with that.
Where in your life do you need more albatross? What leap do you want to take?
It’s time to fly…let’s leap!