Dominick recently informed me that the Blue Footed Boobies might not be the best name for our Breast Cancer 3-Day team. "Mom," he said, "Booby means idiot, did you know that? You named your team the Blue Footed Idiots! You can't name yourselves that!"
I will admit, I have felt like an idiot in recent weeks. I have had many Dola-Days, when I had no choice but to smack myself upside the head over and over again for some sort of forty-something foolishness. I have laughed at myself, cringed at my ridiculousness, my forgetfulness, raged against the absolute demoralization of being haunted by all my old injuries--the creaky overused knees, the whiplashed neck, that old girl stiffness--just when I was starting to feel strong again. I have learned that we are not always rewarded for having good intentions.
I am a Used Bagge, after all. Rugby Goddess, perhaps, but no longer a Spring Chicken. And definitely, no doubts about it, a Blue Footed Booby.
Despite my best efforts at training wisely for the Breast Cancer 3-Day 60 mile Walk, I seem to have fallen into my old competitive mode, even calling it a "Race" a few times (oops! upside the head) and striving to temper my tendecy towards over-doing with doing just the right amount. Right now, I am a Swollen Footed Idiot, to be certain. Despite the rivulets of blue veins running this way and that across the barren plains of my feet, there is little blue in my feet today, just foolishness at thinking that I could walk so, so long, over hills and streams, crisscrossing town lines, jumping over railroad tracks, pumping past the stench of fresh fertilizer, feeling the rush of springtime envelop me in its crackling, resonant hum, and somehow manage to escape tender feet, sore knees, and a stipple of sunburn along the back edges of my tank. Blue Footed Booby, indeed.
Actually, I felt pretty darn tootin' good, after last Saturday's twelve miles. After all, thanks to some great tips from my marathon running Facebook friends, I prepared myself well, slathering on the unpetroleum jelly all over my cracked, blister-prone heels, in between my toes; slipping on two pair of socks that I bought for their supposed anti-blister powers; and packing the essentials: water, shot blocks, cell phone, camera, iPod. I hydrated well beforehand, made sure I had gone pee (critical!), and stretched out before I set out to chase the pavement du jour; after all, I've been training for months, alternating walking with interval running and hills, weight training, yoga, and I've learned a few things about my body, things I had quite forgotten.
Loudest lesson to date: my 43-year old body does not reward me with the same kind of results that my 23-year old body did.
Training inside on bad weather days at the NMH gym, where 17-year olds fly past me on the treadmill, continues to remind me that I am no longer a sprightly 17-year old myself. It's funny how majorly delusional I can be, though, whipping through rounds of steep hills and fast sprints on the treadmill, thinking I am fly, indeed, only to realize my silliness: that everyone around me is going so much faster, sweating so much less, and doing their calculus homework at the same time to boot, and it all comes crashing down around me, for a second, anyway, before I am able to scrape my ego off the floor and pump myself back up with some appropriate kickass music: Donna Summer's Bad Girls, Prince's Uptown, and Lipp's piece de resistance, Funkytown. It's tough, though to contain myself when one of those songs hits, and I have often thought that those high-tech treamills should add a dance-break option: press a button ("Get Down"), and in the middle of your 5K run or walk, the treadmill stops to offer you a platform for getting your funk out, mid-stride, complete with disco lights that illuminate the typically stodgy, unforgiving floor, and turn your dull-as-toast workout into a veritable Blue Footed Booby dance-walk feast.
This past Saturday, for the first ten miles anyway, I ended up forgoing my iPod for the symphonic sounds of spring that surrounded me: the flirty peepers; a pair of hawks, circling and calling out to each other; the tumbling brook; the chorus of birdsongs; the wind rushing through the trees; and the subtle, explosive quiet of spring's majestic return to life. If you listen carefully, you can hear the growth and burst of buds and blossoms, the strain upwards and outwards through earth, into sky, the opening inside out. Really.
This very rush of life is what sustained me last spring, pulling me from one surgery to the next, and surrounding my recovery in the simple promise and energy of spring's rebirth, the quintessential fresh start. I remember walking about our property, allowing myself to be drawn in to the unfurling fiddleheads, the unraveling buds just starting to peek out into the sunshine. It wasn't that I hadn't noticed it all before, but it seemed different. I didn't rush it. I made it a priority. And there was nothing extraneous about it; rather, it became an essential need, a kind of nourishment that I couldn't do without. I'd spend hours just standing on the edge of the old beaver pond in our back wetlands, listening to the echo and hum and trill of the frogs and birds, watching the light bouncing off water and tree limb, the clouds move across sky and water. And when my strength returned, and I was able to walk longer distances than just the lovely little amble up and down the dirt road just down the trail and over the stone wall from our house, there was something infinitely reassuring about being able to lose myself in the rhythms of the natural world, something that brought me back into myself, and into a sense of oneness with the awakening going on about, within me.
This spring, I again have found solace and strength in walking, in relaxing into the primal rhythms around me, in spending lots of time outside. My training has brought me back into myself and into the land (and I don't know if there is a big difference between the two, actually) in different ways, summoning my warrior girl, and spiritual earth mother, invoking my inner athlete, and, alas, my toughest critic--me. And as much as my walk-abouts have done to bolster my flagging spirit, there is a new set of reality to contend with: my knees are wrinkly, and no matter how much exercise I get, my skin is simply not getting any firmer. Damn, damn, bummer-damn.
I know, I know. I shouldn't be concerned with such nonsense. See? Blue-Footed Booby, indeed.
Wrinkly knees, of course, will not impede. Sore feet, perhaps. On the last two miles of my walk, the heat had peaked--near 90 degrees--and I switched on a disco-flavored playlist on my iPod to provide me with the necessary boost to make it up the final hill. Earth, Wind, and Fire. Chaka Kahn. Wild Cherry. Did I really used to scream DISCO SUCKS at junior high school dances? Well, I was lying. Disco, as it turns out, ROCKS. There's nothing quite like listening to Wild Cherry's Play that Funky Music to get your ass up a really steep hill after walking non stop for three hours in the blistering heat. Maybe that's the boobies' secret: an endless loop of classic funk and disco being played in their heads that allows them the energy and inspiration to get down on it with their own blue-footed funky style of dance-walking bravado.
Despite Dominick's concerns, I stand by my selection of our 3-Day team's name, The Blue Footed Boobies. Aside from the obvious booby-breast association, the choice of the name The Blue Footed Boobies for our Breast Cancer 3-Day team reflects a whole lot more than mere digression into elementary school (or Judd Apatow) humor. When my family and I spent time in the Galápagos Islands in the summer of 2006, we were struck by the amazing diversity and uniqueness of the animals there—not only were they unlike any other animals in the world, but each and every one of them offered up something truly remarkable. Whether entranced by the Dancing with the Stars-choreographed courtship dance of the waved albatross, the endearing playfulness and sense of fun of the Galápagos sea lions, or the immense, lumbering size of the ancient Galápagos tortoises and the nonpareil grace of the sea turtles, we were riveted by the Galapagos animals, particularly since they were unbelievably unafraid of humans, making it quite possible to commune with them up close. Their lack of fear afforded an astonishing intimacy that felt like a rare, sublime treat: we were able to really get to know the animals in a way we aren't ever allowed in the untamed wilds of New England. When do we ever get to hang out with black bears? Run through the meadows with fox and deer? Watch a mink tend to its young? Not only did we snorkel and swim and play with the Galapagos animals (but not, of course, touch them), we also watched them dance and mate, fix their nests, and tend their young, all typically strict, private operations of wild animal survival and adaptation that humans aren't usually allowed access to (for good reasons). Being able to observe them in their natural habitat for minutes on end, we marveled at the evolutionary forces and sprightly hand that must have shaped them. It was truly a Darwinian feast.
Not many were more impressive, memorable and lovable than the Blue Footed Booby, whom we were able to observe in many different places and poses in the Archipelago: catching some alone-time among the mangroves, nesting and taking care of their young on the barren cliffs of Espanola, congregating on the shelves of rock in a hidden cove, and flying and fishing in swarms above the open seas. At first, we were captivated by their outward appearance—with big blue feet anchoring smooth white bodies with brown wings, heads and necks flecked with brown, and yellow beady eyes sitting atop long, sharp beaks, they were unlike any other bird in book or birding experience. Soon, though, they impressed us with their flying and fishing ability (not to mention their mooning ability—and the accuracy with which they were able to crap on us from their guano-thrones along the rocky cliff shelves). Plus, their babies were adorable; oversized, covered with white fro-fluff, and stuffed-animal-squeeze-ready, they hung out in nests that seemed to teeter on the edge of cliffs, turning their big eyes to us as we passed. Hello. I’m a Boobie. I may not have blue feet yet, but just you wait. What are you?
What’s not to love? Boobies of the blue-footed variety are not just amazingly beautiful; they are tenacious, powerful, lovely fliers, divers, and hunters; loving, protective parents; and at the time of courtship, hilarious, super-fly dancers. Their name, of course, only adds to their appeal. In Latin, their name is quite lovely: sula nebouxii. Boobies belong to the order of Pelicaniforms, along with pelicans and their relatives, all delightful, whimsical birds of the highest standing. And in English? Well, there’s just something fun about saying Blue Footed Booby. Especially the Booby part. Booby!There is much speculation how the Blue-Footed Booby got its name. The first colonists who came across the fascinating bird may have been rash to call them “bobo,” Spanish for “stupid fellow,” but call them "bobo" they did, after watching them waddle about clumsily on land, completely unafraid of them, making them easy to catch (and eat, it would seem). And no doubt they were impressed with their blue feet. These misguided first impressions may have given them the unflattering name, but there are many who believe that the birds were graced with the name because of their bravery in the face of danger as well as their apparent lack of fear as far as humans were (and are) concerned. This makes more sense to me. I’d like to think that the name was bestowed as a term of endearment. Given how charming these birds are in real life, it’s hard to imagine that it was done in any other way.
Imagine a crop of your contemporaries running into a colony of dance-walking blue footed boobies during their courtship rituals, and you might get a different response. Blue-footed, yes. But Booby? According to the Urban Dictionary, that fascinating, alarming mix of slaughtered, refashioned words from the ever-evolving English language, a booby is “A species of seabird. Subspecies include the Blue-footed Booby.” Yes! Somehow, that definition garnered the top spot, right before numero dos: "Yeah, we all know: a woman’s jubbilies.” Jubbilies? Man, I am so out of it. Somewhat hilariously, someone also posted a definition of a booby as “a wannabe gangster, one that is very retarted, another name for bobby, as in booby is my home dawg.” Funny, I’ve never heard Randy Dawg say that on American Idol. As for me, I couldn’t get past the “retarted.” Hello? Any brain cells left? As for the other definitions (yes, quite catastrophically, there were more), they made even less sense than the “retarted wannabe gangster bobby,” and were so riddled in misspellings and text lingo that I got a really bad headache just from reading the stuff.
It’s hard not to fall in love with the Boobies, wannabe gangsters that they are. When I first thought of doing the Breast Cancer 3-Day 60 mile walk, I immediately thought of the Boobies and chose the name for my team, intent to “have their spirit infuse the experience with the joy and strength and love they exhibit in their every step.” After all, the Blue Footed Boobies sleep at night (sometimes, it is rumored, in pink tent cities), feed during the day (every 3 miles, it is recommended, during their particularly long island-hoppers, to keep muscles well-fueled for the long haul), and often congregate in great numbers to hunt for fish in the open seas (or to walk monstrously long distances, because there’s no better way to ease your pain than to walk or fly with lots and lots of friends). Perfect! My fellow Blue Footed Boobies are my home dawgs!
Boobies, of course, are often described as being rather clumsy and slow on land, but we won’t let that bother us, since (Fly Girls that we are) will fly more than walk. Have you ever seen a Booby dance? Check it out here. Plus, when they take to the air, Blue Footed Boobies are beautiful, graceful fliers, with impressive wingspans of nearly 5 feet, which they put to good use when hunting for small fish in the seas off the coast of South America. They often feed in groups, and pity the poor schools of small fish that might be lurking just underwater. The boobies seemed perfectly adapted for their own extreme version of spear-fishing; able to fold their wings back and turn themselves into stream-lined, torpedo predators, they rocket downward at incredible speeds, a sharp-shooting pell-mell into the sea to snatch their prey with their long beaks. We witnessed just such a Booby Brigade one early morning in the Galápagos, when thousands of them gathered in the skies above to circle, wings outstretched and flapping noisily, just overhead, only inches away, and back again, to dive en masse for their breakfast, their bodies like missiles, their beaks like spear points drilling the water with a small, unadulterated zzzzip of a splash, times a thousand. It was amazing acoustically and visually, and we sat in our panga for a long time with mouths open, staring, heads swiveling to try to follow the hordes, trying to take it all in.
Boobies, it seems, have a keen sense of humor, as well as a well-developed playful, mischievous side. On the northwest region of Isabella, along the shelves of rock and layers of ash in Taugus Cove, where pirates of long ago hid out, counted their booty, and hauled off zillions of Galapagos tortoises for food, and where guano-collecting ship crews left ancient graffiti on the walls, sit hundreds of blue footed boobies, who seem to enjoy shooting off rounds of excrement at the tourists who come in their pangas to take pictures of the seemingly placid, cooperative birds. The tourists, of course, always come away with more than they bargained for. It reminded me a bit of being at the Atlanta Zoo, and watching a silverback gorilla grab handfuls of his poop and throw it at the horrified crowds who had come to ogle.
We’re planning on behaving ourselves (of course, the best laid plans often do go awry, and since we are wanna gangsters, there are no guarantees!), and since part of our training must include getting used to doing our business in porta potties during the three days of the walk (joy!), perhaps we should take our cues from the Boobies, and get used to forgoing the privacy around toileting we are used to.
One of the most enchanting things about the Blue Footed Booby is, of course, those blue feet! The blue, the color of the island sky, looks fashionista-fabulous next to the black volcanic rock of the islands, the brown cliff walls, and the deep henna-brown of its wings, and plays a central role in the blue footed booby mating ritual. As is the case of many bird species, females are usually a little bit bigger than the males, who in turn focus all their energy on trying to have the bluest feet ever! so they can, what else, attract a mate.
Boobies live and nest in colonies (again, think pink tent cities), filled with courting and mating pairs of males and females, new parents protecting eggs and young chicks, and fresh faced adolescent boobies at various stages of their development (ok, none of that is going to happen at the 3-Day camp, to be certain. It's all against the rules. And they are very strict about the rules.) Since boobies do not have a distinctively defined breeding season, their colonies play host to boobies of all ages, making for an often noisy, busy place on the high cliffs of the island.
The colony often boasts boisterous pairs of courting boobies, with the males doing everything in their power to show off their bright blue feet to the females, who will ultimately choose to mate with the male who has, you guessed it, not the biggest, but the bluest feet. The male waddles over to a certain female who has caught his eye (petite feet? nice gams? that special come-hither look?) and begins to showcase his blue feet by strutting about (well you can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk), lifting his feet up quickly and then lowering them down slowly, over and over again in a crazy hormone-fueled dance, before joining with his chosen, now-swooning female in a courtship dance that will either make or break their union. In another move that clearly inspired Tony Manero, the pair points their bills upward in the air while the male spreads his wings and whistles. Once the hook-up has been secured, the male brings the female some nesting material as a final demonstration of his commitment. I’ll be there for you, baby, and I’ll be a good Daddy-o, too. Typically, females lay their small clutch of eggs in small depressions in the ground without much of a nest, so the gift of nesting material is pure symbolic gesture. But the males do indeed follow through on their promises, helping out by using their large blue feet to cover, warm, and protect the eggs. The females do the same, with each parent taking turns to ensure that their brood remains safe from harm.
The boobies take care of their hatched young for just the first couple of months, after which time a chick can, apparently, take care of itself. We witnessed many pairings of mother and chick on the rocky cliffs of Espanola Island. The chicks are covered in hilarious and copious white fluff, which makes them look bigger than Mom. The chicks instinctively know to stay close to the nest. Boobie parents will not retrieve a chick who strays, so don’t go chasing waterfalls, and please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to…
Boobies can live 17 years in the wild. And domesticated boobies? Who knows. Fortunately, it hasn’t been attempted. Until now. I’m planning on returning to the wild sometime soon; I’ve spent far too much time cloaked in the promise of domesticated bliss, and am in need of a little adventure. Blue footed boobies have been known to stray off course and find themselves far, far away from home. In the summer of 2006, a lone blue-footed booby was spotted in Skagit County, in Washington state, and attracted quite a lot of attention. Must have chased a waterfall.
It’s no wonder the Blue-Footed Booby has made its way into the hearts of millions—and to the number five spot (after the polar bear, tiger, snow leopard, and panda) in the Top 5 Animals Adopted in the World Wildlife Fund Online Adoption Center. Boobies are the bomb. Wouldn't you like to be a Booby too?
The Blue Footed Boobies are looking for a few good males…with striking blue feet, of course…and females, too, to join us to walk in the Breast Cancer 3-Day, this July 24-26 in Boston. The Blue Footed Boobies will be walking for our girls, and yours, and all those girls grown and gone and those not even sprouted yet. The Blue Footed Boobies will be walking for boobies everywhere!
With a little luck, our feet will hold up on the hot, Boston pavement as well as the boobies’ feet hold up on the hot, crusty, sharp volcanic rock of the Galápagos Islands. I have no doubts that the current crop of Boobies--myself, my mother, Angie, Ursula, and Jeanne--will kick 3-Day butt, raise a whole lot of money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and do ourselves proud. We might be the Boobies Five now, but we'd love to expand our colony, add some wannabe gangsters to the mix, a few more home dawgs, a handful of bobos. And it sure would be nice to have an even number of Boobies so the tenting thing works out a little more easily. Boobies Ten? Now, that has a nice ring to it. So, please--think about joining us! And if you're not able to don your blue feet and walk with us, please consider making a donation to help us go beyond our team goal. Adopt a Blue Footed Booby today!
To Boobies everywhere,
Blue Footed, Bionic, Nursing, or Not,
I give you the Boobie salute:
Wherever you are in the world,
Take good care of yourself,
And take good care of your girls!