Learning to Fly

I live in a loft above a chicken coup. I would gladly live inside with my sisters, but whenever the farmer catches a glimpse of me, he grabs his shotgun and I have to do some fancy flying to avoid the buckshot. When he throws out seed in the morning I hang back until he had gone about his other tasks before flying into the yard. Initially, my sisters were wary of me also, but once they saw that I’m just one of them–pecking up seeds that the farmer casts across the yard each day–they no longer cower next to the fence when I alight next to them.

I think I have figured out why my sisters treat me as not belonging in their flock. I think it has something to do with their inability to take to the air with the ease with which do. All they seem to achieve is a brief glide and only then after a torturous windup and frantic beating of wings. I believe that their sedentary lifestyle plays a role in this strange ineptitude. In any case, I know my ability to come and go as I please engenders envy, especially since it can cost them their life.

Every Sunday morning, before the family leaves for church, the farmer comes out and grabs one of us by the neck. Of course, I am long gone by the time this happens. After he disappears with her into an adjacent building, there follows a thud and a screech. Then the one he has grabbed that morning is never seen in the yard again.

I am not at risk of disappearing like that on a Sunday morning, since when he comes out into the yard, I always keep my distance. Those are the times when I wish I could teach my sisters to take to the air and sail over the fence that encloses the yard. I simply don’t understand why they don’t let me teach them how it is done—before one dreadful morning, it is too late.

One of them, Mary, sometimes almost clears the fence, and I’ve noticed that she watches me when I try to show her how I do it. But then she turns away, as if envy has closed her mind.

After one of my sisters disappears, I feel ashamed that I am still here and she is not. I return to the yard and redouble my efforts to teach them how to avoid the same fate, because I know it will happen to one of them the following week. But for the rest of the day, the others don’t try to escape. On the contrary, they seem determined to do nothing to attract attention to themselves.

Now another Sunday has rolled around and it seems that the whole flock is feeling nervous—perhaps because the farmer has an accessor’s look as he moves around the yard. He opens the coup as usual; throws handfuls of seed across the yard just as he always does. He pours water into the trough. But I can tell that he is looking at individuals more directly than when we are just a flock he is feeding and watering. I can tell from the attention he is paying that he is measuring something, gauging something. I know it won’t be long before he will be returning to the yard, not to offer anything but to capture one of us.

The moment he leaves the yard, I fly down among my sisters. I have noticed that the farmer’s eyes rested on Mary the longest. She seems to have noticed it too. She seems interested in my example as I take flight from the yard and skim over the fence. She’s watching me and also glancing at the corner, from which we are both expecting the farmer to appear.

From my perch in the upper branches of the poplar tree at the edge of the farmhouse, I see the farmer walking toward the chicken coop. He unlocks the gate, enters the yard, and walks toward Mary with purpose. Mary manages to squirm between his legs and races toward the fence with everything she has in her, launching herself with wings flailing. I see that the farmer is actually smiling to himself, fully confident that Mary will just stun herself when she slams against the solid pickets that she will fail to sail over.

I don’t know whether it is the ardor of Mary’s effort, or because she is my favorite sister, but I am suddenly in the air diving across the sauntering steps of the farmer, then joining Mary’s futile dive toward the fence. That’s the moment I discover my other skill.

As if my body is remembering a forgotten destiny, my claws reach out toward Mary’s floundering body, catch hold of her dense weave of feathers, lift her clear over the fence, and then we are sailing across fields and the tops of trees. I am impressed. Mary’s wings continue to flap, as if she thinks she is flying. Perhaps she is. My dive across the yard was pulled out of me by her attempt to fly to freedom; so perhaps it is I who am finally learning to fly.

I have never flown as far as the river before. But, without question, I realize that this is where the wind is born; the wind without which no bird could even dream of flying. When we reach the river, both Mary and I redouble our efforts to stay air born. Exhausted, we land on the distant banks, in a land that is full of abundant life.

As I gently lay Mary down, I suddenly understand that this has been my destiny all along.

I am not one to dwell on sad farewells. And I don’t feel entitled to stay on this other side. I am not yet ready to live in this land of peace and happiness. I have work to do back in the yard, where the rest of my sisters are in grave danger. I must return and save each one of them.

2 comments to “Learning to Fly”
  1. What a teller of stories you are Michael! I could sit around the campfire from dusk to dawn mesmerized. 🙂

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