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Sunday, December 13, 2020


by Pepper Trail

An albatross named Wisdom, the world’s oldest banded bird, has returned to an annual breeding ground in the Pacific Ocean and laid an egg—at the age of at least 69. The Laysan albatross was first fitted with a leg band in 1956 by biologists studying the life cycle of the birds. It meant that she could be identified among the three million individuals that nest at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. —The Times (UK), December 5, 2020. Photo: Wisdom and her mate take turns for eight-hour shifts on the nest. Her return is considered a triumph for conservationists. Credit: WESSEX NEWS AGENCY

My father, gunner's mate, and your father, albatross
Somehow survived the Pacific War, and I imagine them
Inhabiting the same embattled sea, yours forever on the wing
Mine on endless watch, one day disbelieving the sight - 
No enemy, but that mythic bird, aloft
Postwar, your parents returned to bomb-cratered Midway
Where the stubble-headed sailors called them gooney birds
Where together they scratched a hollow between the runways
And from their ecstatic mating, their patient incubation
Hatched a chick, those sixty-nine years ago, you
Peacetime, safe again inside the continent, my father
Courted and married, and with his small bright bride
Produced me, firstborn, same year as you
My father's son, fated to be storm-tossed
Lover of birds, student of the albatross
As a youth, you were caught, handled, ringed
Given a number that began your history
Year by year, decade by decade, your life flew
Detached itself from the rest, soared above
Brought you to our notice, gave you a name
Wisdom, you have become a legend
But are not burdened, your endless voyaging
Simply your life, made up of days of wind
Content with the landscape of waves
Free upon your outstretched wings
Yet most years a moment comes that turns you back
Rearranging your feathers to seek the land
Where your mate waits, and the world waits
Today, with the news of your return, I bow my gray head
As you lift your wings and, once more, dance

Pepper Trail is a poet and naturalist based in Ashland, Oregon. His poetry has appeared in Rattle, Atlanta Review, Spillway, Kyoto Journal, Cascadia Review, and other publications, and has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net awards. His collection Cascade-Siskiyou was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award in Poetry.