I flip over my Audobon Birder’s Engagement Calendar 2018 to the day’s photo: a blue-footed booby, looking typically, um, stupid. The shot below is my photo, shared earlier in these pages, but IMHO all booby photos are much of a muchness in this dimension. They just never look astute, you know?
I flip the calendar over to read the commentary accompanying their booby photo (taken by Patrick J. Endres). And I quote . . .
Innocence is often equated with stupidity. Hungry sailors, landing for the first time on tropical islands, found Blue-footed Boobies (Sula nebouxii) clumsy on land and easy to catch. Thus, they conferred on these big seabirds a lasting derogatory name. Yet these boobies, on Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, are adept divers for the fish on which they live.
At the outset I was struck by that “innocence being equated with stupidity” comment, but by the end my attention had veered onto another tack.
Clumsy on land, but adept in the water, eh? Like walruses, seals, and penguins, I guess. Forty years ago at Sea Life Park on Oahu I saw penguins swimming in a three-storey glass tank: Talk about your “zoom zoom.” These little birds that stagger around awkwardly, almost comically, on land, are torpedoes under the water. Bats out of hell have nothing on them.
Clumsy on land, but adept in the water? Yeah. We all shine differentially in different environments: I myself might reasonably claim to be clumsy in motion, but graceful in stillness.
G.K. Chesterton, whose work I’ve been reading lately, might well have taken this notion in his own distinctive direction; perhaps saying something like this:
If we are clumsy in this world
it is because we are made for the next.
I can’t quite get there, but it’s an interesting thought. Maybe if we’re clumsy at one thing it is because we’re made for something else. And I’m pretty sure that it would be a happier world — or at least that I would be a happier me — if, when I see myself or someone else doing something laughable, I don’t laugh but, instead, think to wonder what it is that we do “do well.” And to marvel at that.