Feed Your Puffling

I watch a lot of documentaries, mainly of the wildlife variety. They help me keep things in perspective sometimes, and jerk my leash a little when I think I’m having a bad day. It especially helps on the days when I’m lying to myself about how I did “everything I could” to make a thing happen.

I fell asleep to one of these docs last night, and the nightmarish hellscape some animals live in simmered in my subconscious while David Attenborough narrated.

Somewhere inside the Arctic Circle, along the rocky crags above the violent water below, live puffins.  Puffins are remarkable birds, black and white, with big eyes and brightly colored beaks. They are also serial monogamists.  They mate for life, and both parents helps nest and feed the baby, called a puffling.

How adorable is that? A puffling? Get outta here.  And to sear this avian Norman Rockwell photo even more deeply into your skull, let me tell you how dedicated the parents are.

Every day one of the parents has to go and collect food for the chick—sorry, the puffling. I can’t get over how cute that word is.  Now, puffling food doesn’t just grow up the street. They eat a very specific diet of sandeel and fish that require the parent to fly—

I’m sorry. I get sidetracked. I know some of you are parents. I know you love your children. I know you would do anything for them. Keep that in mind. Because these puffin fly—

—Thirty miles EACH WAY to collect these fish.

These aren’t humans driving Teslas. These are ten-inch birds, flapping their hearts out. That’s like walking from Houston to Galveston every day to get breakfast for your kid. And how many of us lament our half-hour commutes in cars with air conditioning and Spotify?

But it gets worse.

The puffin loads up its mouth with fish. They are a unique species of bird that doesn’t swallow and regurgitate, but instead mouth-palms up to a dozen fish at a time so he can bring them back whole to his baby. He doesn’t even touch the fish!

He flies back hungry, with tasty herring tickling his tongue as he flaps on, exhausted. It’s like going to McDonald’s two states over and not eating any fries on the way home. This is totally Father of the Year material.

What’s with all the happiness, Slade? Relax, it turns pretty quickly.

Enter the skuas – basically larger, angrier, thieving deathbirds – who circle the icy waters near the cliffside home and wait for the puffin to return. And then they mug him blind. They don’t even follow him to the feeding grounds, they just sit in the Papa John’s parking lot and catch the driver at his car.

Odds are, the skuas will kill and eat the puffin, too. Skuas are dicks.

And of course the whole thing is made worse by Attenborough’s narration. The puffin is a father, a fisherman, and a loving husband. He works three jobs just to keep his family fed, and often goes without himself. He falls, flailing and empty-handed, into the churning ocean below, where his last thoughts are of his young puffling, withering away next to the corpse of its heartbroken mother.

My point is, what are you doing to keep your baby fed? Not your real one – those are much harder to accidentally kill than you think – but your intellectual and creative one. I bet you’re not flying a hungry, sixty-mile round trip on your own wings to make it happen.

You can do more.

The skuas are out there, yes.  But once you figure out what your puffling is, they won’t really matter anymore. In fact, fly a few extra miles just to make them marvel even more.



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