The albatross who was afraid of flying
Right in the middle of the great Pacific Ocean, far from every land, we find the island of Midway. If you were to fly far above the island, it would look like a small greenish spot in the middle of the wide blue sea, like a shiny emerald at the centre of a vast blue robe in constant rustle.
This island is one of the few places where the albatrosses come to land to raise their young. Albatrosses are beautiful birds, with snow white bellies and head that contrast with the dark greys of their wings and back. They live on the open sea, using their huge wings, large as surf boards, to soar over the waves in search of food. They fly so masterfully, incredibly close to the water, that they seldom have to flap their wings as they cover thousands upon thousands of kilometres in each year of their long lives.
In Midway the albatrosses nest all over the place. We can find them in the beaches, in the dunes, even in the local golf course. This was the case of the nest that was built by Diomède’s parents, right there by hole number thirteen. His egg was nearly hatching therefore his mother would not leave his side for a single second. Still, when a golfer hit her with a ball on her left wing, she was scared and flew off for a few moments.
It was then that the golfer approached the nest and, confusing Diomède’s egg for his missing ball, picked up the egg instead. Bad luck had it that Diomède hatched in that precise moment, on the golfer’s hands. The man was scared when he saw the little bird emerging from his “ball” and dropped him to the ground.
The mother quickly came back, chasing off the golfer with a furious grunt. She hurried to the nest and sheltered the scared Diomède under her great wings, but the damage was already done. From that day onwards, Diomède was afraid of heights, a serious problem for an albatross that is destined to spend is life on the wing.
Diomède grew up quickly thanks to the juicy squids his parents brought him. In a few weeks he became himself an enormous albatross, almost as large as his parents, but still brown like all the other youngsters. Anyone who visited the island around this time would soon notice the bustle that was going on. It was the first day of flight school for all the young albatrosses from Midway, the most desired day when they would finally start learning the art of flying. Desired by everyone but Diomède who had always dreaded the day when we would have to face his fear of heights.
Every year, about this time, the current batch of young albatrosses would walk to a hilly meadow by the sea, where old master Planicus would teach them how to fly. Diomède trod along with his friends, the brothers Alba and Tross, rare twins from a nearby nest, fatty Casper whose renowned appetite forced his parents to ask two uncles and a cousin for help feed him, and pretty Albiona who was born white as a snow flake.
When they arrived at the school meadow, all young albatrosses placed themselves in a line along the base of the hill and waited for the master. They were all quiet except for a joker, called Antic, who climbed a small rock and attempted to fly. Of course he fell like a stone and ended up with his bill buried in the soft grass. All the other youngsters shared a loud laugh.
They were still laughing when the master arrived, walking with a slight limp on his left leg and sporting his aviator hat and goggles. He immediately started the class. “I see my pupils are quite amused. I hope you are in a good learning mood because I have plenty to teach you”.
Planicus started by explaining that no creature mastered flight quite as well as albatrosses and that he demanded perfection from his students. He could not suffer another seagull making fun of the clumsy landings performed by some albatrosses. Without delays they started their exercises. First, he ordered the youngsters to flap their wings, and then they moved on to squatting and running.
The next day they started with lift-off techniques. Master Planicus told them to run. Then, they ran down to a small gully and jumped over it while flapping their wings, all the time listening to Planicus shouting “Harder, you must flap them harder!”. The first flight came after a week of classes. One by one, the young albatrosses ran down hill, constantly flapping their wings, and using the wind, took off. Even Casper managed to raise his round belly a few centimetres above the ground. The last in line was Diomède...
It was his turn. Diomède took a deep breath and started running. We flapped his wings as hard as he could. He ran and ran and finally felt he was weightless. He was flying! Then came terror. As he watched the ground getting further away from his feet he screamed, closed his eyes, stopped flapping and eventually fell to the ground in a cloud of dust and grass blades.
Diomède left the school meadow in tears. He went back to his nest a sad bird, thinking how he would live his life as a flightless albatross. After class, Albiona and his other friends came by to cheer him up. It was then that he told them about the day when he was born and how he got his fear of heights.
As the days passed the young albatrosses became expert flyers. They already knew how to take off and how to soar, they had learned different landing techniques and how to use the winds to glide effortlessly above the waves. Diomède was the only one staying ashore, sulking at the beach as he watched his friends flying wonderfully near the coast.
One day, Diomède and his good friend Albiona were walking along the beach as they talked. “I really like to watch you fly Albiona.” “Oh, Diomède. One day you have find the courage to fly. I would really enjoy flying with you. Can you wait here just a few minutes while I quickly catch some squid for our lunch?” And she flew off like a feather in the wind.
Diomède remained near the surf, enjoying Albiona’s graceful flight. He was always amazed how she was able to glide in between the waves, and how she dived down to catch squid. But suddenly he watched her fall. A strong gust of wing forced her to hit the water with one of her wings, and has the wing bent she splash into the ocean. Albiona tried to take off again, but the wing hurt too much. She started swimming to shore.
Diomède was witnessing everything from the beach when he saw it. A dark fin emerged among the waves. It was a shark. Albiona kept swimming towards land, without seeing the shark that was approaching her from behind. Diomède tried shouting a warning, but she couldn’t ear and the shark kept coming closer and closer.
In despair, Diomède went for the only option that was available. He started running down the beach, against the wind as master Planicus had taught. He flapped his wings with all is might and, just before getting his feet wet on the surf, he flew off. He never thought about his fear of heights and flew like an arrow towards Albiona.
The shark was now very close to Albiona, already showing a big mouth full of sharp teeth above the surface of the water. Just before he attacked, Diomède dropped down on him like a missile. He pecked him on the eyes and on the top of the head, but the shark wasn’t going to give up. Finally, he pecked the shark on the nose. A shark’s nose is its most sensitive spot, so the terrible fish ran away as fast as he could and never came back.
Albiona was saved. “Thank you Diomède, you saved my life”. When the two albatrosses came to shore many of their friends were already waiting for them. Someone had witness Diomède’s brave action and they quickly pulled him up on their shoulders and paraded him around the colony. They were singing and shouting “Hurray for Diomède, the hero of Midway!”
A few days later, as her wing was feeling better, Albiona went for a stroll with Diomède. She winked at him an invitation “Shall we fly together?” Diomède took a deep breath and shot off running. Albiona followed suit. The two albatrosses flew over the sea, disappearing towards the setting sun.