Clumsy on Land

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?

Close-up of blue-footed booby looking like a booby


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.


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6 Responses to Clumsy on Land

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    Setting aside G.K. Chesterton’s belief in a better world to come — he was, of course, a brilliant apologist for traditional Catholicism — I too am struck by that “innocence equated with stupidity” quotation. It seems to me that it says more about the definer than the definee. It presumes that “you just wouldn’t understand,” or “someday you’ll get it,” or perhaps even, “I’m a realist because I’m smarter than you are.” What was Wordsworth’s quote? That we come into this world “trailing clouds of innocence”? (Something like that, at least. Some few manage to hold onto those clouds of innocence through their lives. One who springs to mind is Jean Vanier.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – It’s “clouds of glory,” but I take your point. Here’s the relevant stanza:
      Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
      The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
      Hath had elsewhere its setting
      And cometh from afar;
      Not in entire forgetfulness,
      And not in utter nakedness,
      But trailing clouds of glory do we come
      From God, who is our home:
      Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

  2. Tom Watson says:

    It appears to be the booby is astounded by all this chatter!

  3. I think it comes down to the Booby’s beady eyes that may not blink very often — when a person doesn’t blink, it makes them rather spooky. Even robots with faces are now programmed to blink.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – You could be onto something. That staring look doesn’t engender any kind of confidence! In doing videos, I’ve discovered how often I blink. There must be a happy medium between the boobies and me . . .

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