My desk faces a wall, and two large picture windows to my right dominate the living room. I can’t help but peek out the windows and watch the red squirrel nibble the suet upsidedown or catch the raspberry sherbert glow of sunset over the rooftops on a partially cloudy evening. Last week I glimpsed fluttering in the branches of a tall pine across the street. Squeals and squawks alerted me to a nest of fledglings. With movement, I tried to get a closer look. That’s how I came to be writing at my desk with binoculars.
It was worth adding the lenses to my piles of paper, reference books (including The Sibley Field Guide to Birds), and a hoard of colored gel pens (purple, turquoise, pink, carrot-top green, and functional black). The shrill cries belonged to a family of American Kestrels. According to Sibley, they are “…screaming killy, killy, killy.” No less than five juveniles hopped and beat their wings in the tree outside my window. Two parents dutifully supplied insects to the noisy brood.
Earlier, the robins fledged two batches of babies. The hummingbirds nested in secret, and the starlings returned to a successful nest in our neighborhood. It seems to me that birds of prey fledge later than the songbirds. A few streets up the hill from the co-op, Merlins nest. They feed almost entirely on birds, although they will eat a dragonfly. Alaska, the Keweenaw, and New England are the few US areas where Merlins nest. They prefer to rear young in Canada. Eagles prefer to nest near water, and we have a large lake nearby.
With the Merlins and Kestrels busy in town, we happened to find a juvenile eagle along the red sandstone cliffs of Lake Superior past the breakers where the canal spills into the Lake. We were boating the canal with our double bubble double date. In times of COVID, we have made a pact to connect with another couple to share outdoor activities. In a season of isolation, it’s a gift to boat with friends (an even greater gift to have friends who own a boat). Weather and timing were perfect for a Sunday cruise out to the red cliffs. The canal is large enough for the lakers, and sometimes they seek shelter from gales before winter shuts down the shipping lanes on Superior. The water grows choppy at the mouth of the canal, and it opens up to the inland sea that is our lake.
Cruising down the shoreline, we heard the distinct chirp of an eagle. Overhead, an adult glided as we anchored near a spectacular waterfall. At the time, I was more interested in — you guessed it — the rocks. I was ogling the variety beneath the boat, eager to examine them. We slid into the water from the swimming deck and went to shore. I was thrilled at the prospect of rocks inaccessible to casual beachcombers. The eagle circled, and soon, we realized she had a young one. Like the Kestrels and Merlins, he was noisy, demanding mother to feed him. The Hub got a laugh out of the young eagle watching me. I think the bird hoped I’d catch a fish.
Later, with “garden” rocks loaded in the boat, we ate lunch beneath the youngster who was still expressing his interest in a meal. Maybe inspired or tired of us non-fishing types, he fled the coop, so to speak. It startled me to see the baby eagle clumsily descend toward the lake, and soon, we were all shouting for him to “Pull up! Pull up!” Maybe our human advice worked. Maybe it was his own instinct, but he haltingly glided and beached himself. We worried that he’d have a harder time lifting up from the ground. And he did. Eventually, he made his way back to the tree.
And then, he flew!
It’s a marvelous event to witness the first flight of any bird, but one so big as an eagle was a rare sight. We cheered his effort and wished him well. It was like graduation day. The eagle made me think of my own baby eaglet. When my son was two-years-old, he had wispy blond hair that he liked to run his fingers through. At that age, he perched on my back, often in a backpack designed to tote toddlers. With one hand, he’d lift his hai, and with the other, he’d play with mine. I remember looking forward to the day he’d “fly” and no longer be in my hair. With bittersweetness, I watched the juvenile eagle fledge and fly off as they do.
This weekend, my eaglet marries his bride. We leave in the morning for Wisconsin, our wedding clothes carefully secured in a garment bag. My toenails are painted a deep cabernet, and my eyebrows are tame. My COVID hair is cut and shaped, and I do not miss having to pull it back. It seems like yesterday, my son had his fingers in my hair. I know he will fly this weekend, and I’ll probably smile and cry all at one time. I’ll be home on Monday, in time for my finals, and then I get a small break. It seems like it’s going too fast already, and I just want the moment to slow so I can savor it.
August 13, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a first flight. It can be anything or anyone that flies. What is significant about the first? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by August 25, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
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CALL FOR RODEO LEADERS: The Rodeo 99-word Stories Contest will return in October with a first-place cash prize sponsored by Carrot Ranch. As indicated, each contest is 99-words. However, the type of story, format, subject, or added prompts is wide open to creative direction. Carrot Ranch will host the TUFF (99-59-9-99) contest at the Saddle Up Saloon every Monday in October. The ranch buckaroo is looking for three more leaders who have blogs and would like to create, host, and work with judges of their choosing to host a Rodeo contest at their blog on an October Tuesday. This is different from previous contests so that the regular challenges can continue simultaneously. It will help regulate ranch traffic and can increase traffic for partner blogs. If you are interested, contact Charli at wordsforpeople(at)gmail(dot)com. There will be a Zoom meeting in late August for Rodeo leaders. Thank you, Goldie and Marsha, for signing on! We have two openings left! I’d love to have some diversity to offer broader opportunities.
First Flight by Charli Mills
The phoenix spent a lifetime reinventing herself. Each experience stabilized the bits, girding future wings. Her thoughts solidified. From dusty ashes, elegance rose. Sometimes her development caused an imbalance—she’d gain strength in one wing, leaving a talon incorporeal, a sooty ghost foot. Failure created more ashes, but ashes packed form like down in a pillow. Soft, at first, the padding transformed to muscle and bone. Fully engineered, the phoenix’s original vision improved with age and wisdom gained. A fire of kindness flamed her fully actualized self and she burned, a sacrifice to the ashes of her next life.