22 October 2009

Revisiting Old Photos and Writings: Entry 2, Sooty Tern

**I worked and lived on a 30-acre islet within the French Frigate Shoals Atoll, ~700 nautical miles NW of O'ahu. Thirty acres...
I lived with open ocean, pelagic species of seabirds. They did not live with me; again, I with them. With so much life, breeding colonies of noddies, frigatebirds, terns, boobies, etc., there is always a Balance; death. On the greater whole of the Balance, death is easily understood. However, for single individuals; particularly the one's you have come to know, It is unfair in Its fairness.

Within my routine on the islet, after work I would usually go to workout in an old, small warehouse. Individual birds amongst the several thousands are noticed to be where they usually are at a particular time of day. You begin to know them.

There was one juvenile Sooty Tern I came to know. It's standing spot was one I could see while exercising in the warehouse. I was there in the fall and winter months, so most of the Sooty Terns had left. Tern I. was named after these guys because there are ten's of thousands or more that breed in the summer on this emergent 30 acres of coral rock. Every foot of real estate is occupied by Sooty Terns. When I arrived there where still several adults, loud, bold, and unafraid..

Over time there where fewer and fewer; but still, this juvi was standing in the same place it always stood. peep-peep-peep-peep-peep'ing at any adult fly over. I would see it every day, same place. It never moved, only pivoting....then it only stood. Over time it's peep'ing quieted and slowed down. Then any vocalization stopped. No longer pivoting, it simply stood facing the wind as all life does on the 30-acres. Then, on some particular day, I had noticed it wasn't even facing the wind. Just standing. Finally, taking far longer than I had expected (the kid really seemed as if it had something it wanted to live for...something in it's present life.. some..Thing), it no longer stood.

When you get to know thousands of birds every moment of every day; you then certainly get to know particular individuals. This was a moving example of such an individual. One afternoon I just had to get something out of my head, out of my heart. On paper..**

wait until


I am a Sooty Tern.

This spring and summer there were

Over sixty-thousand of us on the island.

It’s like that every year, the elders tell us.

So many adults flying like a tern should;

Fast, free, you should see us!

You should see us when we are able to fly!

I can’t wait when I grow up and can fly.

Fly like a Sooty Tern!

I, with all my adult and young tern friends

took up every space of this island.

They even named the island after us.

Tern Island.

For Sooty Terns, that’s what I am.

I can’t wait until I can fly!

When summer grew late, lots of my terns began to leave.

That’s okay. I’m told that’s when some of us

begin to leave.

Lots of the young have left the nest and can fly

so they begin to go out to sea.

Lots of young have left the nest like I have.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

Some young terns are later to hatch than others.

We are still attended by our adults.

They fly out and back, bringing us food.

Fish and squid.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

There are many of us Sooties around,

even into late summer.

I remember being so excited when my close friend learned to fly.

He urged me to come with him.

It wasn’t my time. I’m still on the ground.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

It’s October now.

All my friends are gone.

I told them I would meet them when I could.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I hear an adult once in awhile.

What am I supposed to do?

Nobody hears me.

All my adults have been gone for awhile.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I don’t hear many chirp-chirp-chirp’s

from young Sooties anymore.

I don’t chirp because I can’t anymore.

My adults, and my voice, have left me.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I really came up looking good.

All my chick down is gone.

All my feathers have grown in,

even though juvenile colors and pattern.

I should be able to fly pretty soon.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

When I was just a downy chick

I was told of my good fortune.

Other creatures jealously thought

how lucky to have been born a bird.

Other birds spoke of our good luck.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I can still only stand and walk.

Wobbly now, the former.

Barely, on some days, the latter.

I am so lonely.

So hungry.

I can’t wait until I can fly.



Cruel to be born of this world, see its potential

and not be able to live it.

Even worse than cruel, to have been born a bird.

Not just a bird, a tern, a tern of the open ocean.

I can’t even move anymore.

Certainly not off this patch of dirt.



Why then?


Would have rather been born a moth.

A moth only lives a couple of weeks.

BUT he flies, and lives a full moth life on this earth.

I am so hungry I’ve forgotten.

So tired I’ve forgotten.

So lonely I’ve forgotten.

The only wonder I now have is if I’ll finish out the week, oh, and what happens next.

I hope it’s something. This time was too cruel and unfair.


Why am I here!!?

Could it be for the one who

is currently writing about me?


I can’t wait…


I …


f l y

-Matthew W. York, 7 Oct 2007, Tern I., FFS Atoll, NW Island Chain, HI

**By the way, it is alright for biologist to turn into poet, into non-scientific writer, into many things, verdad? No one is truly "one" thing. At least nobody only has potential to "be" one thing. We are complex, thinking beings. We should then allow ourselves to be so. We are not, and have never been, of an "ONLY "with" or ONLY "against"'-type mind, imaginative, and thinking-capacity species.**

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