The Leader-Post – Feb 23, 1948
By ROBERT LYND
As I was sitting on the rocks of Country Antrim the other day gannets were diving into the Atlantic close to the shore, each of them raising a fountain of foam where it plunged into the blue.
The energy of one’s fellow-creatures, whether human or not, is usually a pleasant spectacle to an idle man. The energy of footballers and boxers is a constant magnet for millions, and the energy of horses quickens the pulses even of those who have never made a bet.
Among bird there is none in this climate that is more impressive in its energy than the gannet. As it disengages itself from the water what power of wing it needs to beat its way back to an altitude from which it can get a view of its submarine prey! Then, having seen nothing to its taste, it glides down on open wings swift as a toboggan, to the wave-tops and, before it has touched them, turns upward and soars to a new height where, with wings flapping hard, it seems to be trying to hover like a kestrel.
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The next moment it has precipitated itself into the gulf, falling headlong with its wings spread wide, as Satan fell from heaven after his defeat; and the force of the dive can be measured by the high splash of foam that shows where the bird has pierced the water.
As I watched a number of these birds diving and re-emerging and flapping upwards and gliding down and soaring, I could not help envying their vast voracious energy. As a human being who works for his living only with reluctance, I wondered whether I should not have been happier if, like them, I had never dreamed that there was such a thing as an alternative to work and if from my school days I had been a well-constituted animal to whom the day’s work was only another name for the day’s enjoyment.
Saddened by the reflection, I took the daily paper out of my pocket in search of something cheerful. Alas, the first thing that caught my eye was the report of a meeting of the Derry Board of Guardians, at which one of the members had said: “Conditions in England are bad. There is little to eat there, and one man from Derry who worked there for seven months and who weighed 11 stone weighed only 8 stone when he returned home.”
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This frightful picture of life in England distressed me when I thought of all my friends who are living there. Has the country really become a land of walking skeletons?
My spirits began to revive, however, when I remembered that not so many years ago a number of my English friends maintained that loss of weight, far from being a thing to be deplored, was the one certain sign of improving health.
During that period, indeed, everybody seemed to be agreed that one of the great objects of life should be to change one’s weight, whatever it was.
Remembering this, I cannot help thinking that human beings always have been and always will be dissatisfied. They will be dissatisfied if they grow fat, and they will be equally dissatisfied if they remain as they are or grow thin. Life as it is will for them be always wrong.
That is why it was so pleasant to watch that reasonable creature, the gannet, which accepts life as it is, works hard without grumbling, is content to live on such unrationed foods as it can get, and doesn’t care whether it grows as fat as the Fat Boy of Peckham or lean as the handle of a rake.
Perhaps, however, I should have enjoyed watching the gannet in any case.
Quotes By Robert Lynd: