Oct 16, 2008
A lone Pacific swallow just landed aboard Argo. His name is Pilot. Most likely a juvenile, Pilot is a dusky grey-brown with a neck of faded chestnut. His feathers are weathered, his eyes weak, and he could comfortably fit in the palm of a child’s hand. I’ve already overheard a number of rumors and speculations about the folklore behind a bird landing on a sailboat. I’m not a sailor so I don’t know what Pilot means to Argo, but as somewhat of a naturalist I know what Argo means to Pilot – precious refuge and rest in an otherwise indifferent and open ocean. We’ve spent the better part of the late afternoon trying to gain his trust. The crew has put out bread, water, and dead insects in the hopes that this sustenance might prolong his life and to their delight, Pilot now responds to our approaches with increasing acceptance and familiarity. While I’m sure the crew would like to attribute this domestication to their Franciscan care, the scientist in me knows that Pilot’s behavior is driven more by exhaustion than friendship. But at the end of the squeeze – a nightly event where all the crew gathers in the cockpit, joins hands, and takes a collective moment to share their daily thoughts – Pilot poignantly flies to the hand of our Captain. It’s a moment filled with so much unexpected meaning that I suddenly see new significance in this rare vagrant bird. Alone and tired, Pilot is a single traveler amidst the Indian Ocean. Far from land and his fellow kind, he has been traveling day after day pushed by instinct, survival, and wonderment. He is exhausted and hot but duty and the promise of land compel him forward. We can’t help but sympathize.