Akos Hivekovics is a quiet man, very shy. He keeps away from the other passengers. He eats alone with a congenial aloofness – this self-effacing Hungarian is an expert on Antarctic birds. Gentle, retiring, introvert. He had just given a brilliant lecture. “The albatross is such an impressive bird – I love it more than any other”
American ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy once said “I now belong to a higher cult of mortals, for I have seen the albatross”. Will I feel that way? Will I join that same rank of higher mortals? Akos joined me at the stern and we stared out into the swirling wake left by the ship.
The albatross, what is it about the albatross, that mythic bird that roams the southern seas. Like the mariner in Coleridge’s epic, I am drawn to an ancient rhyme. Darting off the port stern I thought I saw something behind a wave. Was it an albatross? Was it? I gazed into the emptiness, wishing.
Akos was right – you will always remember your first sighting of an albatross.
Almost as if rising from the sea, the bird came in behind the ship and glided gracefully in its wake. It was majestic – the Wandering Albatross. I gripped the railing and stared. Murphy was right, now that I had seen such a bird I knew something deep down had changed. In ways I cannot understand it was this albatross at the stern of the Orlova, who initiated me into a higher cult of mortal.
The supernatural spaces that separated us were filled with messages and myths. Stories and strange silences. This wanderer told of Coleridge’s tale – of how the spirits of sailors, long dead, followed ships in the form of albatrosses. They were trying to get back on board, trying to become mortal once again. “Help me”, the cry came from across the gulf that separated us “Help me”.
Akos broke the spell “That is the Wandering Albatross, biggest of them all. Is that not a sight?” Oh yes it is, and it is a bird in danger of disappearing forever. That night I could not sleep – the ghost of the albatross haunted me, “Help me’ it echoed in my restless mind.