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The Column: Hooray for the ordinary in extraordinary times

There is a migratory bird called the bar-tailed godwit that flies 7,000 miles nonstop from western Alaska to New Zealand, another reason to wonder why human beings think they’re such hot stuff.

Like me, the godwit is ocean averse and, therefore, would not think of foolishly idling away hours on a whitecap, pondering the state of the universe and hoping a stray mackerel happens by. No way. The bird just keeps moving, an example for us all.


Those vulnerable to occasional bouts of road weariness, and associated dysfunction, surely will be interested in the bar-tail method for battling fatigue.

I am paying special attention.

One evening a few years ago, I wearily headed home on my usual route, unconsciously made a wrong turn and, after a mile or two, wondered why everything looked eerily out of place. I panicked briefly — Did I live here? Maybe not — but regained my bearings before charging through a stranger’s door and shouting: "Dinner ready?"

My auto-pilot impulse is sometimes so overpowering that I fear one day setting off for a visit with old friends in New Hampshire and arriving on the doorstep of my daughter in Alexandria, Virginia. "Hello, dear. How come you’re not Bill and Nancy?" Cognitive testing and nursing home appointments would be sure to follow.

How does the godwit do it — cross the ocean without even a night’s rest on some balmy Pacific atoll?

During a public radio interview, naturalist Scott Weidensaul, author of "A World on the Wing," said the resourceful creature shuts off half its brain — "unihemispheric sleep" — while the other is navigating and performing in-flight duties essential on a jaunt of 11 days.

Wow, huh?

As a kid, I could have used this kind of backup.

"Where’s the liverwurst?" Mom might ask upon my return from Gerken’s deli up the street.

"Thought you said salami."

Here would occur a deep maternal sigh. "Where’s your brain?"

If more well-versed in Alaskan wildlife, I might have answered: "Half-asleep. Surely you are aware of the bar-tailed godwit?"

Next question: What about fuel for the godwit’s marathon pilgrimage? Wouldn’t the intrepid traveler run low by lunchtime?

Even on a little drive to Greenport, I am noshing on tortilla chips and Reese’s Pieces before reaching Riverhead. My wife passes a handful of pretzels. "Couple more," I’ll say.

No snacking for the godwit, though, let alone a quick stop at Panera for iced tea and a Kitchen Sink Cookie.

Nope. The bird has been bulking up.

Bingeing commences well before leaving Alaska in August or September. They "just eat and eat, and eat, and eat, and eat," said Weidensaul. "They double their weight. They're 50 percent fat by the time they take off."

It’s a miracle the overstuffed critters stay airborne.

I am reminded of Cape Canaveral, in Florida.

Once, for Newsday, I covered the launch of a space shuttle. It was an astonishing sight — the blaze of ignition, the billowing vapor, the giant rocket hesitating for a second as if reluctant and then sprinting skyward while excited spectators cheered.

Perhaps it is the same for the godwit — summoning strength, overcoming inertia, putting aside the thought that, gee, maybe this isn’t such a swell idea, after all. Next stop: New Zealand. I feel like applauding, myself.

Why focus on the godwit?

Perseverance, sure, and single-mindedness. Constancy, that’s the ticket — a sense that the world has not entirely reordered itself just because of a pandemic.

The expectable sometimes goes underrated. Regular order has its charms.

Along those lines, I found it soothing to find an email from Martha Stewart posing the question, "Should You Point Silverware Up or Down in the Dishwasher?" (Handles up is most hygienic, an expert answered.)

Ah, the ordinary.

Starbucks ran out of oat milk at some locations. A bubble tea shop opened in Elmont. David Letterman turned 74. The Mets are still wearing orange and blue.

On walks, I pass the same neighbors again and again, out for exercise, staying in shape, keeping the faith. Sign of hope. Badge of resilience.

Hooray, then, for the dauntless bar-tailed godwit — fueled up, half awake, ready to fly — and those on Earth who carry on. Whatever the distance, full speed ahead.

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