Review: “The Seabird’s Cry” by Adam Nicolson

What does it feel like to be a seabird? Book by Adam Nicolson, “The Seabird’s Cry”, could be the closest we have ever been to imagining the world of a migrating seabird, living above the enormous oceans, breeding, feeding and dying there. Too much dying, in fact, over recent decades.

When I studied philosophy, I remember how excited I was about the idea that in theory I could have a new kind of sense that would reveal a hidden pocket of the world around me. As to give the sight for the blind or the hearing for the deaf, the landscape would gain an additional dimension. I desperately tried to imagine what could this new sense be like, but I couldn’t. Nothing would surpass what I already knew.

There is a German term in philosophy, Umwelt, the horizon of your perceptual and conceptual world. British writer Adam Nicolson, who has written 22 books, has put the idea of multiplicity of Umwelts at the core of “The Seabird’s Cry” and tries to describe the Umwelts of seabirds, of ten different species, and does that with wonder and care.

Fulmar, puffin, kittiwake, gull, guillemot, cormorant (and shag), shearwater, gannet, great auk (and razorbill) and albatross, each are given a whole chapter for their unique “birdness” to appear in front of the reader’s eyes. I feel blessed for the possibility to tiptoe over my own horizon and peek at “the miracle of otherness”.

“Perhaps only the poets in the past would have thought of seabirds riding the ripples and currents of the world, attuned to how the ocean is, a place of interfolded gifts and threats, but that is what the scientists are seeing now too,” Adam Nicolson writes in the Introduction.

Only recently the veil of mystery of seabird migration has been lifted thanks to the advanced technologies. Many studies and experiments, done in the last decades, now help us to understand a bit more about the lives and loves of these beautiful creatures, who have been here on Earth way longer than humans. You become well informed by reading “The Seabird’s Cry”, but the story is told by a poet and that’s why you stay and listen as long as possible.

What does the world of a seabird look like, how does it feel like?

In the chapter about shearwaters Adam Nicolson tells the story of the tubenosed seabirds, how they can smell the plankton and so find the best feeding spots in the vast blue ocean. Imagine an olfactory landscape, rich and various, but invisible and even unsmellable to us. “…the ocean becomes a parkland of meaning, alive with signals telling you where you are and where you need to go, a miracle of otherness, an ocean planet of which until now we have been almost completely unaware.”

Book is also a reminder that we should stop navel-gazing before it’s too late. Humans have been destructive enough to endanger many species, including many seabirds. When you see the photos of dead birds, tummies filled with lighters and bottle caps, because plastic smells similar to plankton, you hope for a change.

Otherwise the chapters of “The Seabird’s Cry” would become like polished eggs of the great auk, flightless seabird extinct since 1844. Eggs became sought after collectibles in Victorian era, symbols of something that will not hatch anymore, an echo of a cry.

But I hope for the best, because “we have, of necessity, entered the age of empathy”.

“The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers” Adam Nicolson, William Collins, 2017

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Tikai pēdējās desmitgadēs, pateicoties maziem GPS raidītājiem, ir kliedēta daļa noslēpumainības, kas apvij jūras putnu migrāciju un dzīvesviedu. Daudzi atklājumi ir pavisam neseni, lai arī putni, dinozauru tuvākie radinieki, zem saules dzīvojuši jau tūkstošiem gadu pirms cilvēka.

Kad pirmā kursā studēju filosofiju, atskārtu, ka teorētiski varētu būt vēl kāda maņa, kas pasaulei atārdītu jaunu kabatu. Kā aklajam iedodot redzi vai kurlajam dzirdi, ainavai nāktu klāt dimensija, kuras iepriekš nebija. Nevarēju rimties, kā gribējās izdomāt, kas tā varētu būt, bet atdūros pret savu iespēju robežām.

Filosofijā ir vācu valodas termins “Umwelt”, pasaule jeb jēgas horizonts, kas katru ieskauj un kam pāri īsti netikt. Aklajam un redzīgajam “Umwelt” atšķirsies. Cilvēkam un jūras putnam vēl jo vairāk.

Termins “Umwelt” ir britu rakstnieka Adama Nikolsona grāmatas “The Seabird’s Cry” kodols. Autors mēģina uzburt, kāda ir jūras putnu pasaule un kā viņi spēj dzīvot okeāna ārēs. Grāmatā aprakstītas desmit sugas: kaijas, tuklīši, ķildes, trīspirkstu kaijas, kormorāni, kairas, sullas, vētrasputni, alki un albatrosi.

Ir jūras putnu sugas, kurām kopīgas īpatnējās nāsis – kā caurulītes uz knābja. Ir atklāts, ka tieši oža ļauj tiem, tostarp, vētrasputniem, milzīgajā okeānā atrast barību. Viņi saož smaržu, ko izdala planktons, kas savukārt ir barība zivīm, kuras tur pulcējas. Iztēloties okeāna virsmu kā fantastisku smaržu ainavu, kuru mēs nekad neieraudzīsim, kā raibu karti, nevis bezgalīgu tukšumu. Vai iztēloties pasauli ķildes vai albatrosa acīm, kad tie ceļo uz vēja muguras. Albatross, pateicoties milzīgajiem spārniem, vējā jūtas kā mājās, sirdsarbība palēlinās, piepūles nav vispār. Vēji, kas apjož zemeslodi, ir šo putnu karte.

Grāmata ir arī atgādinājums par cilvēku kā pasaules nabu, kura darbības pēdējos gadsimtos apdraud vairākas jūras putnu sugas. Kad ieraugi attēlus ar miroņiem, kuru vēderi pilni ar šķiltavām un plastmasas korķīšiem, jo plastmasa smaržojot līdzīgi planktonam, gribas cerēt, ka Adama Nikolsona uzrakstītās nodaļas nebūs kā Milzu Alka olas, kas, putnam izmirstot, Viktorijas laikmetā kļuva par kolekcionāru trofejām stiklotos plauktos un nekad vairs neizšķīlās.

“The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers” Adam Nicolson, 2017 William Collins, 2017