Saturday, June 25, 2011

What Birds Know and You Don’t - #1 Perfection

The Drake Passage;

While I have been moved countless times in Nature, it would be hard for any of these moments to surpass the times spent in the company of albatross. Sure, being among them on land is oddly intimate and funny, but to sway with the rhythm of the waves as you stand on the back of a ship in the company of albatross, is to be in the presence of perfection.

Albatross do appear to be perfect in the sense that their flight appears to be effortless. You first spot them married to the horizon and they invariably begin to close the distance. In a featureless seascape like the southern oceans, the wingspan stretches gradually into clearer view. The wings, fixed and immobile are fine-tuned to do all the work- and to do it exceedingly well. These birds don’t simply fly, they whip back and forth through the ship’s wind wake with only near undetectable twitches of their wingtips. They make what other birds do in the air seem boring. And albatross seem to do it with calm indifference.

But their mastery of the southern oceans, awesome as it is, did not come about by chance. The arch, camber and shear of the wings are crafted by evolutionary design stretching back to the Oligocene some 35 million years ago. The perfection of the present is the result of the adaptive perseverance of the past. The dignified flight of the albatross reminds us that all flawless mastery hides the pains that went into achieving it. And that is how it should be.

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