Writers as Albatross

Kaloakulua the Laysan Albatross
Photo credit: @AlbatrossCam, http://bit.ly/KauaiAlbatrossCam

I have been watching Kaloakulua since February.  Back then, she was a newly hatched chick.  Her parents would alternate sitting on her, protecting her and keeping her warm until she was big enough to be left alone, then both parents would continue the immense task of feeding her.  I remember her first night alone.  I watched her sitting in her nest near the base of the hedge until after the sunset.  A parent had left her a couple of hours before, Kaloakulua wasn’t going to go hungry.  This is it, they aren’t coming back tonight.  Then the video image turned to black.  I am not a bird person, I mean, I like animals, but never felt so deeply about a bird.  I worried about predators.  And the next morning, she was awake in her nest, safe and sound.  I was relieved.

While her parents are away for days or weeks foraging for her food, Kaloakulua meets the neighbors (cardinals, chickens, nene, other Kauai birds), explores the knoll, and even a few junior albatross stop by.  They’re between three and five years old.  They dance, moo, clap their beaks, and show her what they have figured out so far about being an albatross.  Sometimes Kaloakulua is interested, sometimes, she preens.  She spent a lot of time alone until she built a new nest closer to another chick, Mango.

Kaloakulua has been growing so quickly, her feathers are coming in, and her wing span is getting large.  In the next six weeks, she will stretch her wings, as she’s been practicing for awhile now and fly away.  My boyfriend says that will break my heart.  And he’s right.

So here’s the scary part.  Kaloakulua won’t return to her home on Kauai for at least three years.  Scientists are learning that albatross travel far, sometimes flying 500 miles a day, not touching ground for months.  Albatross face dangers such as fishing boats and especially plastic.  When they are juniors, albatross return to their nesting grounds to practice more social rituals, and return again when they are ready to court and mate at around eight or nine years old.  Albatross typically mate for life and can only raise one chick a year.

And, to me, this is like being a writer.

When we figure out that we want to write, we emulate others or study their works closely, learning what we can from morsels of knowledge.  Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get some guidance from mentors or peers.  We spend time alone studying.  We’re discovering our own way into the craft.  And when we fledge, we also travel far.  And that is the scary part.  Will feedback in a workshop or from an editor derail us?  Sometimes life happens.  We get tired.  The chances of being a writer for the long haul are slim.  Will we quit?  Sometimes we cringe at our pages we’ve spent months writing and revising.  Sometimes we can’t wait to write.  But know then, that’s when we are in it, we are learning how to be writers.  Not when others are watching us, but in the days, weeks, and years where we are practicing maybe even adrift.  And if our commitment to writing survives, yes, even a decade or two later, we might be ready to do our life’s work.  Nurture it, feed it, and be in service to it.  Producing such work is a driving force of nature.

The world’s oldest known bird is a female Laysan albatross, just like Kaloakulua.  Her name is Wisdom and she is 63 years old.  She and her mate are raising a chick this season.  Scientists estimate that this is her 35th chick.

I wish you and your writing all the perseverance, longevity and survival of Wisdom.


  1. Loved this line: Producing such work is a driving force of nature.

    And this one brought tears to my eyes: I wish you and your writing all the perseverance, longevity and survival of Wisdom.

    Thank you for this. I wish the same for you;-)

  2. When I’m really IN my writing, I forget about time, food. I work until I drop. It feels like I’m wrapped up, whisked away.

    Writing requires devotion. Albatross embody devotion. And, well, I couldn’t honor the albatross without a nod to Wisdom. The thought of what she has done with her life blows me away.

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