The Laysan albatross will spend nearly half its life at sea. This amounts to almost twenty years spent adrift, and though we might follow its journeys across tides, the landscape will seem, to us, repetitive. Perhaps if we had spent decades over the same tidal patterns, we would recognize order: anomalies like the oddly formed boulder behind your parents’ house, how it reminds you of an upright thumb, though I always secretly felt it was Nebraska’s penis. In the same way, no two Laysans remember their location from cognitively similar details: this one remembers that here live the tastiest squid; the other knows that the waves react differently due to a small island nearby that governs the currents; still another remembers how the water starts to get warm as you head north toward an undersea vol- cano. It makes for a nice, relaxing spot to spend an afternoon and soak.
At year’s end, thousands of Laysans will gather near Midway Island. Their presence looks, from the shore, like an island of snow a mile or so off the coast. They discuss each other’s families, where fish migration patterns are leading this season; but mostly they gather to vent their anger at the air- base nearby, cackling at the orderly uniformed MPs and pilots. They come to mourn their grandmothers and grandfathers, much like the month we spent outside the waste water management plant. Occasionally, a Laysan will approach the flight path. That one will invariably fail to return. The MPs regularly see to the funeral details. There is little ceremony and no salute. Once finished, they will return to their rounds and the heckling of the Laysans.