20 December 2020
Puffins at the Start
I grew up telling my parents about memories I had as a baby. They were astounded by what I shared. I described an old crib and where it stood by a window. Covered in green paper with red threads running through it, small squares were made that just fit my tiny finger tips. I liked to play there, in that white crib with chipped paint, reaching through the slats and poking the window insulation paper during cold Minnesota winters. There were other early memories I described in detail.
What most impressed my parents was my remembering a residence from the first year of my life. Beyond all odds, I was able to recall events that took place in makeshift military housing, where we lived until my first birthday. Afterwards, we moved to an apartment with winterized windows and doors; the green insulating paper unnecessary and the old crib with the flakey paint left behind.
What I remembered happened in the dark of night. The house remained quiet and still. I slept little and lightly, but never cried out for adult comfort. I didn’t need it. Didn’t want it. I found the stillness of night soothing enough. Often, I spoke words in a whisper. And not the “ma-ma” or “pa-pa” variety. No, “puffin” was the word I uttered again and again, night after night. I sensed puffins were special creatures, although had never pictured them as birds or animals. I simply admired them enough to make that name my nightly mantra.
Strange, moors and puffins are not introduced to children in Minnesota. They are, however, prevalent in Norway. And the majority of families settling the state, this part of ‘new world’, immigrated from the ‘old country’ of Norway, including my own. Still, we were Midwesterners. Puffins and moors were worlds away.
Now as an adult, I sometimes wonder, before one year of age, did I recall not only the window and crib, but the puffin and moor of my ancestral homeland? Had I lived a previous lifetime (or many) in that part of the world?
I’ll never know until perhaps the time I reunite with ancestors in the Great Beyond. But I’m content to live with that. One thing is clear, to this day, my heart thrills when I see a puffin—even photos in a book captivate me. And the moors I’ve tromped in Wales, Ireland and Scotland, well, their breathtaking beauty fills me with enthusiasm and a buoyancy I’ve rarely experienced in other places.
At first, while Sophie and I worked to refresh this website, we thought about topping it off with an Eagle photo. After all, Eagle is Sophie’s last name. But in the end, we agreed, for me, the totem to highlight must be the puffin. In this way, we circle back to my earliest memories; and recognize my love for the puffin remains strong.
In appearance, puffins look like a Heyoka, or sacred clown, black and white in body, red and gold of face. They live contrary too. Once born on coastal lands, puffins go out to sea. The opposite of most creatures, puffins forsake the comforts and shelter offered on land, and stay not in flocks, but float solo across vast open waters miles from terra firma.
Today, we are like Puffin. Having lost our harbor, we’re set adrift. The contrary puffin reminds us not to cling too tightly to familiar shores, but rather, gain comfort with the drift. Wave after wave of unknown beckons us into that vast ocean of ambiguity, until we eventually relax and feel at home there.