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Mark Twain's New Stamp

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Jun 29, 2011

Mark Twain visited Hawaii in 1866 and fell in love. And yet these were his words on first sighting the Hawaiian Islands, which he insisted on calling “The Sandwich Islands,” after Captain James Cook.

We came in sight of two of this group of islands, Oahu and Molokai (pronounced O-waw-hoo and Mollo-ki), on the morning of the 18th, and soon exchanged the dark blue waters of the deep sea for the brilliant light blue of “sounding.” The fat, ugly birds (said to be a species of albatross) which had skimmed after us on tireless wings clear across the ocean, left us, and an occasional flying fish went skimming over the water in their stead. Oahu loomed high, rugged, treeless, barren, black and dreary, out of the sea, and in the distance Molokai lay like a homely sway-backed whale on the water.

Whoa! Mr. T. Forget what you wrote about Oahu and Molokai, because we all know how wrong you were with that first impression. I want to talk about that comment about the “fat, ugly birds said to be a species of albatross.” Fat? Ugly? Are you kidding me? Laysan albatross are the Grace Kelly’s of the seabird world. They soar above the ocean, trailing their wingtips in the sea. They skim waves. They glide with grace. Their faces look like an artist took a paintbrush to them. And as for fat. Hello? You had 11 days aboard the Ajax to check out these seabirds’ proportions. Their six-and-a-half-foot wingspans make them look as svelte as Brooke Shields. If Lloyds of London insured birds, a Laysan albatross wouldn’t have to stand in line behind Betty Grable, Jamie Curtis or anyone to get their leggy wings insured. Fat, my….

But who am I to argue with Mr. Mark Twain. He could have insured his writing hand for a million dollars back in the late 19th century. (And if he had thought of it, I am sure he would have tried. He wasn’t the most successful businessman, you know. Great writer: yes. Successful businessman: no.) And he does have his face gracing a brand new U.S. Postal Service stamp—a first class-mail “forever” stamp costing 44 cents. It hit post offices earlier this week. This isn’t his first stamp. His mug appeared on another one back in 1940. It cost 10 cents.

Oh, and speaking of albatrosses. They’re starting to fledge. That is, the chicks hatched earlier this year are taking flight for the very first time. There’s a few left behind, though. They have a bit more downy feathers to shed before they’ll be ready to take to the air. Aren’t they, well, funny-looking? (Funny-looking, Mr. Twain, yes. But not ugly. No way. Never. It's just a few awkward adolescent weeks before lift-off.)


Susan | Jun 30, 2011 04:57 AM

I love this post! Love it! Your quirky little sense of humor comes shining through in outraged defense of the birds you love. The Grace Kelly's of the seabird world, (grin), a perfect analogy.

Hob | Jul 01, 2011 07:00 AM

Perfect defense of perfect creatures. Everything about them is superlative: how far they fly, how long they live, how sweet they are with their little ones. Anyone else in their presence would count themselves lucky. Poor ting, Mark Twain. Blame all that bad breath on board. We can only hope things got better for him when he landed on barren, dreary o-waw-hoo.

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