The Arctic Tern

There he goes – untrackable by even the wind. He is a friend for low clouds and patron saint to icebergs. He is bound only to the poles – an escaped thread of it – aiming for sun’s stain on the horizon and clocking up 2.5 million kilometres in a single lifetime. Pole to pole the pilgrimage never ends for these incredible compass needles with wings. The arctic tern seen here suspended over the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon (Iceland) had vaulted in and over the water for several passes.

He watched earlier that day icebergs calve from their mother and change of meteorological moods. Now he’s plucking up deliciously oily fish and serving them sashimi-style sharing them only with the breeze.

I could have seen this little guy anywhere in Europe, or Africa, or Asia, or Australia, or Antarctica. He knows all the routes, rest stops and backroads in his puny brain. His beady eyes would have threaded upon wonders so unremarkable it would be traceless in his memory. If the wind had birthed only one species it would be these – freedom entombed. I had often seen them on the Gold Coast mopping up the Broadwater on their run through the tropics, plopping among Asia, back home to love and raise chick-like downy balls in the optimistic arctic. They are the supreme travellers of freedom, flying solo or slightly clustered in tunnels of feathers and determination. If I could speak tern I would ask my little friend what he thinks of the world. Of our maps and boundaries, of the company of ships in the single ocean, of the marriage of plastic islands, of the draining and mixing of pigments of on earth as it passes. I would chatter, “Hi Mr Tern, how are you doing? How was last winter? May you teach me the world aboard your wings?”