Normally, I keep my distance from anyone acting like a booby, but last month during our Galapagos Island cruise, my wife, Becky, and I had an unforgettable encounter with a booby of the blue-footed variety.

We were two of 10 tourists on a four-day cruise through four of the beautiful islands that sit 600 miles off the humid Ecuadorian coast. Twice a day, crew members helped us into an inflatable dinghy and steered us ashore. Our island guide took us down strictly controlled, narrow trails through habitats teeming with turtles, iguanas, sea lions, crabs, and numerous varieties of birds.

On the third day, we disembarked onto the island my birder wife had been anxiously awaiting — the rocky shore of North Seymour. For the next two hours, we wound through large colonies of nesting frigates and blue-footed boobies. Becky lost her teacher demeanor, quickly becoming a wide-eyed student of everything she saw.

Suddenly, she pointed toward a tree, “I think that booby is dead.”

We all turned to see a booby hanging, blue feet up, while the guide grabbed his binoculars.

“No way that bird should be in that tree,” he said.

“Why?” I asked, being a bit of an ornithological booby myself.

“Those webbed feet aren’t built to land on branches.”

“Looks like he’s impaled those giant feet onto the tree thorns. However,” he said bringing the bird into sharper focus, “he’s still alive!”

We were stunned to hear it, but not as stunned as we were when he asked for a volunteer to help rescue the bird.

“Take Becky,” I said, inspiring a quick group concurrence.

For the next several minutes, our group shared the binoculars and watched Becky and our guide disentangle the booby. After a few moments, they placed it on the ground where it would recover or die.

When we returned to our ship, I lay my seasick-self down in our tiny cabin to contemplate the booby who’d paid the price for flying into a place he didn’t belong, for trying to gain something that wasn’t his.

The moment inspired this confessional prayer:


There are times when I’m tempted to fly into places I don’t belong, tempted to swoop in to claim a territory not meant to be mine.

There’ve been times when I’ve entered into personal arguments that aren’t mine, and I’ve offered opinions that weren’t sought and made judgments that were uncalled for.

Like the feckless booby, I’ve sought nourishment from barren and thorny sources. While making a seemingly stealthy landing, I’ve only impaled myself on the consequences of being where I shouldn’t.

Forgive me, Lord, for the times when I’ve called out for rescue from those places, somehow hoping that redemption would come without penalty.

Adding a hymn to my prayer, I couldn’t help but hum the Fanny Crosby tune I knew from childhood, “Rescue the Perishing.” While much of the song is steeped in an evangelical fervor I don’t much appreciate, I still found some wisdom in the third verse.

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.

Meanwhile, above my cabin, Becky and the guide sat in the ship’s lounge, a bit bloodied by their efforts. The thorns were almost as bad for them as they’d been for the booby. Fortunately, there was another rescuer on board in the person of an emergency room physician from New York. He stitched their wounds with skin adhesive, and we were all, as they say, sailing happily into the sunset.

Becky Burkes and guide rescue blue-footed boobie on Galapagos Island

Becky Burkes and guide rescue blue-footed boobie on Galapagos Island

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