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Hey, it's Michael. Today, we have something really special for you, a blissful break from the news. It's a news series from NYT Audio called Animal. My colleague, Sam Anderson, from the Times magazine, traveled the world to have encounters with animals, not to claim them or to tame them, but just to appreciate them. Each episode is a journey to get closer to a creature that Sam loves. For the next six weeks, we'll be running this limited series every Sunday here on the Daily Feed. But if you want to hear all the episodes right now, you can search for it wherever you get your podcasts. Today, episode 2. Take a listen. Walnut. Stop it. Hey. Hey. Hey. Walnut. No. Oh, there once was a puffin, just the shape of a muffin, and he lived on an island in the bright blue sea. It smells like a fish. Yeah. You smell that? Yeah. Where's that coming from? The boat? He ate little fishes that were most delicious. It sounds like fish. He had them for supper, and he had them for tea. Hello. But this poor little puffin, he couldn't play nothing, for he hadn't anybody to play with at all.


It's the boat that smells like fish. So he sat on his island and he cried for a while. It smells so much like fish. And he felt very lonely, and he felt very small. Then along came the fishens. There's no doubt about what it smells like. It smells like fish. And they said, If you wishes, you can have us for playmates. In instead of for tea. They now play together in all sorts of weather, and the puffin eats pancakes like you and like me. Where's we going? Driving off the ferry. I recently went to Iceland. Foggy and raining. Yeah, with my colleague, Kaitlyn Roberts. It's like a movie set. Yeah, it really is. And not just a regular Iceland. The green is so green. I'm talking about extra super remote sea spray, rocky cliffs, tiny island way off the south Coast of Iceland. Proceed to the roof. We want to be going. Because on that island... Well, maybe it's up here. Oh, yeah. Oh, it's up here. There is a single fishing village. In that fishing village, there is a house with a white door. When you knock on that door, you will be greeted by a very polite family.


I'm Sam. Hi, Swava. Hi, Swava. A mom named Swava and her teenage son, Triste. Triste. And the dad. This is my dad. Sighi. Sighi. Hello, Sam. All of whom have invited you over for dinner. It's delicious food. Thank you. Very good. Very good. Thank you. Where are you from? America. I'm from the far West West Coast from a place called Oregon. Yeah. Have you been to the United States? No. At first, it's going to be really awkward because you're strangers. Our daughter is going to a wedding now in Texas. Texas. Very American. But... No, I know all kinds of accents from America. Over the course of the dinner... I'm going to go ride the train with my horse called Buckley. Buckley. An Australian. Do you came here to die? No, I came here yesterday. Things will loosen up. I play guitar and vocals, in general, vocals. That sounds good. This is our Sleepy music. Eventually, you'll get around to the real reason you're here. But Puffet. Yeah, Puffet. Puffet. From the New York Times, I'm Sam Anderson. This is Animal. Episode 2, Puffins. What Why do you have some interest in puffins? Good question. Good question.


Well, I first learned about puffins in second grade when a girl in my class stood up and read a poem about them. I think I must have been seven years old. About this lonely little puffin stranded on an island with no friends, and somehow he ends up eating pancakes that fish cooked for him. I was enchanted. And ever since then, I've held puffins deep in my heart. These black and white sea birds with rainbow-colored little beaks who can swim and fly and carry like 20 fish in their beak at once. They're amazing. And I always thought about puffs from then on. And then somewhere along the line, I heard about this faraway island where something unbelievable happens. At the end of every summer, every year, in the middle of the night, baby puffins start falling out of the sky. I just couldn't believe that that was real. They crash onto doorsteps, on top of people's cars, into storefronts, parking lots, everywhere. It sounds almost biblical, but it's just part of how puffins grow up in this part of the world. I'm in Iceland. Yeah, you're in Westmanet. A baby puffin is called, and get ready because this is very adorable, a puffling.


A puffling. Or in Icelandic, Luntapesia. Luntapesia. I got to write it down. The Luntapesia spends all summer deep in a burrow, this muddy hole that's been tunneled into the cliffs. And puffin parents only have one egg at a time, so it's down there all by itself. It sits there and it waits for its parents to bring big glistening beekfuls of silver floppy fish. And when the baby puffin is theoretically big enough to survive on its own, the parents just leave. They ditch it, and the little baby Luntapesha is abandoned in its hole. Until one night, All alone, very hungry, the puffling climbs up to the opening of its borough, and it looks out at the ocean where all the food is, and it prepares to jump off the cliff and glide down to the freedom of the open sea. For a while, eat, sleep on the ocean. Where it will spend the next several years never touching land, swimming around, learning how to be a grown-up puffin, diving for fish, finding a mate and eventually returning to the same cliffs to start the cycle again to have its own puffling. But every year, some pufflings get confused.


They don't see the ocean. They think they're headed toward the beautiful sunlight reflected on the water. But instead, they end up drifting down toward a well-lit gas station or someone's porch light. Because they are not able to fly as pufflings They only know how to glide. And when they land, they are stuck. Their little wings are really only good for gliding, so they can't take off again. They're landlocked and stunned. And if a puffling is just left there in the street, all kinds of terrible things can happen. Long story short, it will not be growing up and having babies of its own, which just means a world with fewer puffins, which is not a world you or I want to live in. So for generations, during puffling season, the families of Vespinaire have been staying up all night to rescue these baby birds and release them back to the sea. She was telling me there is one place on the island where people could go on their balcony and hunt puffins from their house. There's only one place. In the world. Hunting puffins is also a family tradition here. This part of Iceland is home to the biggest puffin colony on Earth.


There are way more puffins than there are people. Living there and never eating a puffin would be like living in the middle of the greatest vineyard on Earth and never trying a grape. But you've never hunted puffins? No, that's not in our family. We are not a killer. We just eat them. Yeah, we just buy it after it's been killed. It is a very nice food. I love it. We smoke it and have new potatoes, butter. But I'm not here to eat puffins. I've come here to save them. Are they hard to catch? Are they quick? Or what is it like to try to get them caught? They can be very hard to catch. Some are just very calm. And since Tristan has been doing this since he was tiny, he's offered to be our Luntapesha guide. What mood is it in? Confused and mad. Puffling season only comes once a year, and it only lasts for a few weeks. So we had to come to Vesmanaire at this exact moment, even though for me, personally, the timing is awkward. Because my daughter Greta, my own little precious fuzzy puffling, is getting ready to go off to college.


A little furball. If you're wondering how this is going to go for me, the other day at the grocery store, I started crying when I saw her favorite brand of applesauce. I'd like to come while it's still bright, and I could maybe try to show you some puffins. But these birds don't care about me and my stupid human timeline. They will jump when they jump, which I'm hoping is soon, so that I can hurry up and rescue them and still get home in time to send Greta off. You sit in the front seat and it'll be... Yeah. Do you want to hear what my mom It says is unhealthy for my soul. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it's called To the Hellfire. So as we head down toward the harbor, Christie cranks up the music. This is the ultimate puff in Searching song. This will get them to come to us. Kaylyn, do you want the music? Maybe this is just a shutdown because I just want to ask about what's the strategy here? It is just patience and looking out for the tiniest little dots that might resemble a puffin. Okay, what does a puffin look like?


What are we looking for? A little black ball of feathers. Let's go up here. You know those very dark British crime dramas where every day there's a grizzly murder down the docks. You just got to search every neck and cranny. This looks like that. Then if you see something, scream out. Like, torn chain link fences, huge buis, industrial spools of rope. I don't think it is. I think it's just a shadow. Yeah, it's just a shadow. We're staring so hard. Our eyes are popping out of our heads. We're just looking for the tiniest hint of motion. Where are you, guys? Where are you? When we don't see anything down at the harbor, we check out the rest of this tiny island. We drive past the school. Do you see anything? Past the golf course. No. Past this giant sculpture of a soccer wall on the side of a hill. I don't see any out there. Again and again. Sometimes I think a lava rock is a puffin. Sometimes I think a little clump of grass is a puffin. Yeah, everything is a puffin when you're searching for it. It's the middle of the night and there are no puffins.


I feel like this is like when my grandpa used to take us out to see Santa Claus on Christmas Eve night. We'd look up at the sky and everyone would be searching around At some point, he would act like he saw Santa Claus, and we would all pretend like we saw little lights in the sky. We have 13 Santa Claus in Iceland. What? Yeah. The Santa Claus is in Icelandic culture. They are like pranksters and just assholes. They all break into your house. It's not like they sneak in through the chimney. We just keep looping around past the school, past the golf course. He steals your cantal. Past the soccer ball. He steals from your meat factory. Passed the school. Passed the golf course. Passed that soccer ball. Which means like an eye patch loser. Passed the docks, passed the school, golf course. Their mom eats naughty children. Passed the piece of lava that looks like a puffin, but it's not. We're driving now through the golf course. Passed the schools, the golf course. I feel like we're never going to see a problem. Passed the soccer ball, passed the golf course. Soccer Ball. Soccer Ball so many times.


School. Golf course, soccer ball, soccer ball. Should we get out and walk around? We can do It is now 10:00 in the morning. This is all about patience. It's just being patient and enjoying the walk, enjoying the smell. We're trying to enjoy it, at least. Then, out of nowhere, we see it. Huffling. It tries to run, but it has nowhere to go. It's hemmed in by concrete walls. And so we all go sprinting toward this teeny panicking blob of feathers. And Christie lunges at it and just catches it with his bare hands. Hi. And here it is, a real live huffling. Nice down here in the loading dock. Sleek with a black face and a bright white body. It has this long, sharp pointy peak. Got one. You got one. Oh, my God. It's very tiny. You're being rescued. Really flapping. The puffling has some fuzzy gray down on the back of its head, which is a sign that it might still be a little on the young side, and maybe wasn't quite ready to leave its burrow. Oh, wow. It's very tiny. But it did leave its burrow. It climbed right out to the edge of that hole, and it made this brave leap of faith toward its new life, and it totally failed.


Everything went wrong. It smashed into pavement, and now here it is, clamped in a pair of human hands. It must feel like it's being abducted by aliens. Let him bite you. The biting doesn't hurt at all. It's the most adorable anger possible. We all just stand around beaming at this little guy, overjoyed. We can't believe our luck. All the little shadow. I was like, No, that's just a pipe. Then it twisted and I was like, Pipes don't twist like that. This has to be by far the worst night of this baby animal's life. But it's one of the best nights of my life. I'm finally standing face to face Beak to nose with a living, breathing, squilling baby puffin.Thank you so much.Enjoy it a little puffy. Have fun sleeping tonight. We pack up our little bird into a cardboard box where she will spend a long, sleepless night scratching and squeaking in making terrible smells. I don't recommend cuddling with it. Right at the foot of my bed. Like I'm covered in poop, and you will have to search for it. While I am also not sleeping. But it'll all be worth it because tomorrow, we'll be sending her back out to sea.


Good night. Good night. Thank you. What's my subscription to the New York Times have me doing this week? Preparing a strawberry pretzel pie, solving spelling bee with no hints, planning a trip to one of the 52 best places to go, getting to the bottom of the big pants trend, and I'm finally replacing my vacuum with a recommendation I can trust. What will your subscription to the Times have you do? Why not find out? With generous welcome offers that include a seven-day free trial. Go to nytimes. Com/freetrial. There he is. Oh, yeah. Hello. Hi. Our friend Christie had to go to Reykjavik on band business, so he called in some backup to help us. Okay, so. Tour guide mode activated. His friend Arnar. My name is Arnar. Arnar. Yeah, it's probably a little hard to roll the ars, right? I think I'm just going to say Arnar, and I'm sorry to him. Christie and me, we are best friends. Arnar and Christie are in a band together. Do you sing, too, Oh, yeah. Me and Triste, we do joint guitar and vocals. I always say vocals because it's not really singing, is it? Can you do the…


Yeah. You know. That's like the gremlin sound. Then you can just do more general stuff. I guess what I'm asking is for you to improvise a song about rescuing pufflings in your heavy metal voice. You totally don't have to do this. Oh, no. I am so going to do this. Searching down in the darkness below for the puffet Off my soul. All right. Something like that. Arnar is a couple of years older than Tristy. They met in a karate class. Like many islanders, he's been rescuing pufflings for as long as he can remember. There's one memory that sticks out. I must have been around eight years old. We found a puffling that was It was way too small. That means that you have to take care of it for a couple of weeks to let it grow bigger. We did that. We had him for three weeks, if I remember correctly, and I gave him a name. I named him Calleigh. He became my best friend. He ate cat food, chicken, and a bunch of different stuff that we gave him. He was super funny as well. Then the day came that he became big enough to release.


We I brought him out to the cliff, and I throw him up. He looks shaky at first, but he eventually regains stability in flight. I'm like, Yes, okay, finally he's safe. See you in a couple of years. But then he just starts taking a nose dive down. I'm like, Okay, it's fine. He just wants to be closer to the ocean. He eventually basically gets turned around and flies directly into the cliff and just explodes, basically. And I was like, No, Calleigh. And then I started crying. It was a harsh lesson in how brutal nature can be. It's just like, what are you going to do? Here we are at Hamar, where the cliff. This is the most common spot where people take them. Hey, little buddy. We're going to get you out to the ocean, okay? Okay. He doesn't like my soothing words. I have to say it feels weird to be resc a baby the animal by throwing it off a cliff. This is an exciting time. This is your first time releasing a puffling. Yeah. I know. But that's what puffling's like. And so that is what we're doing. I am afraid something's going to go wrong and he's going to blow back into the cliff and die.


Well, I believe in you. Okay. I mean, the wind is blowing very hard on the cliff. Yeah, it is. Very, very hard. It is really windy out here. Okay, so you can just put the box down here and pick him up. You want to basically cradle him with both of your hands. You want to keep the wings in. The technique is basically the same as swinging a kettlebell at the gym. Yeah, I'd do the kettlebell. It's the easiest. You got to spread your legs really wide and hunch down and your arms just hang straight between your legs. I throw him. Isn't he just going to fly back onto the land? No, because they like to fly against the wind. So I gripped the bird. Okay, he's struggling. It's surprisingly light in my hands. It almost feels like nothing. It feels like I'm about to throw a Kleenex off this cliff. Also, do we need to worry about these seagals? Are they eating him? No, they don't go for the puppies. And I get in position. Okay, should I do it? Okay, yeah. I think just give it the old college try and let's see what happens.


Okay. One, two, three. And the bird sails out beyond the cliff's edge. It's flapping like a maniac, flapping its absolute brains out. It looks like a hummingbird. For a long, terrible moment, we watch our bird drifting backwards, struggling and losing altitude until, miraculously, obviously. The puffling taps into some deep root of strength. It somehow manages to gain one molecule of an advantage over the wind, and it goes zipping just slightly forward, just barely missing the rock. And starts half-flying, half-falling down the cliff face, then suddenly bursts out over the ocean. That's it. There you go. Into the clear. That's it? There you go. Look at him. This thing I just had in my hands. There you go. Now we see it as this tiny dot heading toward the horizon, silhouetted against one of these distant islands. It's still going. When we finally lose sight of it, our bird is very, very, very far out to sea. As we drive back down from the cliff, I am so happy. I just can't stop thinking about how that little struggling creature we saved is now sailing out across the freezing water into this whole new life, a life we can't even imagine.


And we did that. We fixed that mistake. We literally saved its life. I'm not sure I've saved anything's life before. I don't think I've been particularly helpful to anything before. And now I'm like a superhero. Good job. This is all I want to do. Got it? Yeah, got it. Fortunately... Holy crap, I did it. Over the next couple of days, puffling season finally starts to pick up. You're a handsome fella. The babies are late. Oh, hello, smava. But they are here. We have pufflings? Yes. And we are catching one after another. You're good at catching pufflings. Oh, thanks. I make sure to give every puffling a name. Puff-anutter. Puff-nutter stuff. Puff the magic dragon. Hufflepuff. I just want to make sure you're okay in there. Okay, ready? And then one by one. One, two, three. Release them back to the sea. Yeah. You did it. Before long, I have fallen completely in love with this island and its birds and everything else about it. One evening, I see the most spectacular sunset of my life. Then I turn around and behind me at the same time, there is a full rainbow arcing across the sky, ending in a volcano.


Then that same night, while we're out catching birds, we see the northern lights. It's extremely green. Yeah, and you can see the little red and purple. The sky is overflowing with stars. It's very green, very bright. That is very green. Everyone back home hates me. I text a bunch of breathtaking photos, and my wife writes back, Good for you. And then she sends me a photo of the giant pile of boxes she's packed up to ship to our daughter's dorm room, which totally fair. But you know what? I'm also very busy. I have my own box to worry about. And inside it, a little birdie who happens to have an appointment with one of the world's greatest authorities on puffins. We'll meet him in just a minute after the break. I think you are here. I feel like you did something here. I'm feeling cute. He's up here. Really? Yeah, I don't know. Oh, wait. Here he is. Here he is. Hello. Hi. Let's come on over to the gear. Dr. Airpour Snarr-Hanson has been tracking the puffing population in Vesmanair for over a decade. We meet him at a place downtown called the Puffin Rescue Center, where every puffling season, scientists weigh, measure, and tag the baby birds, and we hand him our perfect little puffling.


Let's have a look at your guy. Weigh it. Right out of the gate, he's a bit of a downer. Does he look smaller to you? Yeah, when you grab it on him, you feel like his muscles are slim. Dr. Hansen tells us that this year's pufflings were late, which was why it was so hard to find them at first. And they're also dangerously small. You can tell immediately when you do it. Even though our little bird is a little underweight. So we can go and release your friend, or you can do-He offers to help us release it up near some cliffs where he's been conducting puffing research. There's dominant direction here. There's one. These cliffs are really steep. Dr. Hansen takes us up a terrifyingly narrow little sheep trail. How do you imagine that? The first puffing hunter, he fell to his death on that slope there down on the edge. Really? Yeah. But he doesn't seem worried at all about falling. Have you ever fallen down? No. I'm still alive. That's good. I brought along a six-pack of beer because it had puffins on the label. Have a seat. Nothing like a beer in a field.


Okay, that's weird. They're flying really close, huh? So close. You think? I love it. All around us, there are adult puffins popping in and out of their burrows, hopping around in the grass, flying in and out of the water, swooping right over us with beaks full of tiny fish. Here's one. Yeah, just popped out. God, they're so funny. They work so hard to fly. Yeah, they beat their wings by 10 hertz, I think. That's why their energy demands are so high. It's so costly to fly. They fly like 70, 80 kilometers per hour at full speed. See, they're bringing in food like crazy. Yeah. Well, given their circumstances. The circumstances, he tells us, are terrible. He scribbles us this ridiculously complicated map with graphs all over it showing, as far as I can understand it, that Basically, climate change is changing sea temperatures and shifting the ocean currents, and so there are fewer fish around for puffins to eat. This means that puffin parents have to work much harder to feed their babies, and sometimes they can't feed them at all. This year's pufflings are late, most likely because they're undernourished. They're not ready to fly yet.


What would happen to, let's say, this puffling? Most likely it's not going to make it. Why It just show way below the weight. We know the weight is highly, linearly correlated with survival. It's most likely related to they don't have enough power to deal with bad weather, then they starve and then they die. Something like that. That stuff. It's like a bad time to be a puffin. I think so. No, it's a hard time. This is not a lot normally. Oh, no. This is Kind of sad, actually. You're ruining my magical moment. I know. But they're here. My ass is hurting. Dr. Hansen's his ass is hurting, so we head down to the beach to release our bird. You want to do it? Why not? He doesn't want to throw this puffling, and I'm guessing he wouldn't name it either. We've named her Greta. Right after my daughter. It's probably a man. It's probably a man, did you say? No, I'm doing it. All right, little girl. All right, little Greta bird. Ready? One, two, three. Greta the Puffling flaps hard, and she glides out past the breakers into calmer waters, where we see her land and float and start to swim away.


She did it. So you think she'll survive? Yeah, she has a chance. I mean, she's what? 2:55, right? Yeah. It's at the lower end, so she's more likely to perish than to survive. If I have to make a nasty guess. But you never know. But you never know. And that is the maddening thing about letting go. You just have to stand there and watch your precious thing disappear into a future over which you have no control. And you're left holding nothing but the terrifying lightness of your suddenly empty hands. What a nice day. Hi. Hello. Hi, again. Svava of Stockholm. It's our last day on the island. We stopped by Christie's house to say goodbye to our island family.. I brought two puffing beers. Svava and Ziggy have just gotten off work and are relaxing in the garden. I don't drink puffings. You don't drink? You don't drink puffings? I don't drink. I eat puffins. The weather is perfect. It feels more like California than Iceland. We sit here enjoying the sunshine, watching the sun slide down the eye until it touches the volcano. Cheers. To the puffin. Over drinks and snacks, we reminisce about our week, about how I've started to think constantly about my own daughter leaving home, what it means to be a parent, and how hard it is to let go.


Svava has five kids, and all of them, except for Triste, have already left home. What has it been like for you? And do you have any advice for me? Because I have many feelings about When Kisli Birgara, our oldest boy, moved to Reykjavik, 17 years old, I was very depressed. My heart was broken for two weeks, and then I have to start. He is getting older. He have to go to get out to the life just like we. So you just have to feel the heartbreak. Yes, for two weeks. You live. Okay. When you have your child, when you have a child the first time, you know right away you don't own it. You just have to take care of it and help them. Do you have one kid? No, I haven't. She's our first. So we have a son who will be there for another few years. Yes. Little pufflings. Little pufflings. Yes. But we are always mam and dad for the 42 years old boy. I sometimes take him and I always said, You can change your mother if you don't like me. Okay. Would you like to have pancakes? Do you have pancakes?


Yes. He was made pancakes. I would love to have pancakes. If you don't mind. Thank you. A coffee or? Sigm sets the table with jams and syrups. We have coffee, and we eat way too many pancakes. Then we say goodbye. Maybe we will see each other again. Yeah, we will see each other again. Very nice to have you. Very nice to meet you. Thankthank you so much. Very, very come.. Morning. Morning. In the next morning, with my bags packed, I board the ferry to leave this magical island and go back to my family in New York. I set up top on the deck because I've brought something from the island with me. Do you have in the box. Oh, it's a puffling. Oh, sweet. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, we found him last night. You've rescued him. Yeah, we're going to let it go once we get out to the ocean. Tristy told me that releasing a puffling at sea was one of the best ways to send a baby bird out into its new life. There's no cliffs, no cats. Great chance of survival. This is a good spot? Yeah. As we watch the island shrinking into the distance behind I take my last puffling out of its box.


Here, buddy. I raise the bird in my hand, I count to three, and one last time, I let go. This episode was produced by Kaitlyn Roberts with help from Crystal Duhame. It was reported by me, Sam Anderson, and edited by Wendy Dore and Larissa Anderson. It was engineered by Marion Lozano. The executive producer is Paula Schumann. Original music by Marion Lozano, Dan Powell, and Pat McCusker. Fact-checking by Naomi Sharp. The poem There Once Was a Puffin is by Florence Page Jaquiz. Thank you to Gail from Nebraska, who read it when I was in second grade. Special thanks to Jake Silverstein and Sasha Weis. And also to Lynn Levy, Lisa Tobin, Austin Mitchell, Anita Batajow, and Sam Dolnik. And to all of our friends on Vestmentaire for spending so much time with us, especially the Pufflings. I hope you're all out there swimming around in the deep sea right now and that I will see you again someday back on the cliffs. Extra special thanks to my wife, Sarah Uzelec, for packing and shipping all of our daughter's belongings to college while I was busy on my dream trip. You can listen to all of our episodes wherever you get podcasts or visit our website at nytimes.


Com/animal. Special thanks to the band Merkur, Triste Mar Sigurder-san, Mikael Magnuson, and Arnar Juliuson, who wrote us a worldwide musical exclusive death metal song about catching puffins. It's called Puffling. Please enjoy. You might want to turn the volume down in your headphones right about now. You. Closing, closing in the light. Cloning, cloning towards the light. Lots of the streets can't find their way out. Missing their scene, though they're all alone. Sheltered, they seek in the dark in the corners of deco and rescue them. Bust up and box it. Bust up and box it. Bust up and box it. Bust up and box it. Bust up and box it. Bust up and box it. Bust up and box it. Bust up and box it.