A few years ago, an empty eggshell landed on a beach in Tasmania.  It bore a drawing of a giant squid, inscribed by one of my Jemicy M Group students, Patrick.  This was part of a migration experiment that we have been attempting every winter for the past ten years or so.  Kids blow out and sterilize a chicken eggshell, draw a picture of a migrating animal on it, and devise packaging that will allow it to survive a trip far away, shipped through the postal service.  Throughout this project, we talk extensively about the best routes to our destinations, about possible obstacles, about the costs of taking such a journey, and also whether it is even good or right to do such a thing.  Many of the students bring in mailing addresses within the US – of grandparents or parents’ friends – but a few have contacts in far-flung locations, and we have sent eggs to over 20 countries, on every continent but Antarctica.

Patrick had no such contacts, but he yearned to send his giant squid to an exotic place, where no one’s egg had ever gone before.  I suggested that perhaps my friend Peter, who lives in Tasmania, might be a willing recipient.  He was.  Patrick was overjoyed.  We mailed off the giant squid and hoped for the best.

I had my doubts about its reception by the Australian postal authorities; I was fairly certain that it would get there safely, but would be greeted with concern, and could even face instant destruction as a possible vessel for unwanted organisms.  This had happened before, I warned Patrick, especially when destinations were islands that had installed extra safeguards to prevent bio-contamination from foreign lands.  I assured him that these security measure were, in fact, a good thing, and that a great deal of native biodiversity had been lost due to careless or wanton trafficking in biological “goods” that were, in fact, “bad.”

Patrick’s egg did make it to Peter, after all, apparently undisturbed by authorities.  He opened it, carried it down to the beach just below his house, placed it in the surf, and photographed it.  The next day, Patrick arrived in my class to find that his giant squid egg was featured on Peter’s blog. Thrilled, he showed everyone he knew how far his egg had traveled, and speculated about what had allowed his package to pass through security unscathed.

I landed in that surf of Roaring Beach, too, in the first leg of my journey, thinking about what I had brought with me – intentional and inadvertent – and about my reception as a bit of American flotsam on exotic, protected shores.

TasMania: an album on Facebook