The physics of flying are pretty straightforward. The forces that keep you aloft, the Upward Forces, have to be equal or greater than the forces that want to bring you crashing to the earth. These are called Downward Forces. For obvious reasons. They are our nemeses and want to kill us. Flying is not a natural act.
Birds delightfully overcome these forces. They do it by utilizing a combination of their own energy and harnessing the natural dynamics that WANT them to fly. The evolutionary engineering that created light but strong bone structures as well as other genetic adaptations (feathers, etc.) that granted them the Gift of Flight. Not to mention the instincts that enabled them to learn to climb and soar.
It is no mean feat, flying. The phenomena of lift and weight, drag and density, pressure and thrust must happen in the proper order and in the proper amount. The lift must be at least equal to the force of gravity and be maintained for the period of time that there is flight. It is a complicated procedure, and even for birds there is a steep learning curve. Lapses in judgement and short attention spans are frowned upon by Nature.
I watch flight in motion every day. And increasingly grounded as I am, I find I pay more attention to it than ever before. It is poetry. It is power. It is lyricism and athleticism, strength and grace in motion. It is also, as I observe it, a ridiculously, insanely impossible act.
But there they are, flitting about, dipping, diving, veering, swerving, soaring, taking off and landing without any apparent thoughts or fears. And I am an interested observer, a devoted student and an ardent admirer of the Art of Flying. I am also, it turns out, outrageously jealous.
I have long wanted to fly. I have watched with envy the turkey vultures and their ability to roam gracefully and effortlessly for miles and miles in the infinite sky, without flapping a wing. I see their intuitive responses to shifts in thermals and wind directions and I realize both the power and the instinctive genius involved in what they do.
I confess I have always wanted to confidently leap off high cliffs. I would spread my arms and leap into the abyss. Briefly, the Hand of Gravity would push me downward, toward the rocks below. But then I would feel the upward rush of thermals against my chest, lifting me, redeeming me. And then by holding my shoulders and arms in place, just so, I would be able to balance those opposing forces and be carried by the wind. And by cupping my feather-tipped hands and shifting my strong-assed tail-feathers, I would guide myself up and down and choose a course through limitless skies. Hearing the wind blow past my ears and scrunching my featherless face against the cold, I would watch the world below me unfold.
My legs have served me well, and I am grateful for all they have allowed me to do. But I have observed eagles, their wings extended, and how they are lifted and buffeted and banged about, up-and-down and side-to-side by invisible forces. How those wings stabilize and remain calmly in control, correcting as they go and covering great distance. And I feel somehow cheated.
I have seen those long wings, wet and heavy, power that great bird straight out of the water. Lifting a wet load with only the air to push against, and I am thoroughly and unendingly envious. I don’t reckon I would trade permanently, but just for a day I’d love to have a pair of those wings and the understanding of how to use them. Bringing into play another dimension. The vertical reaches. Leaving behind the earthbound grid.
It is true we are Sentient Beings and have the gift of thought. Of consciousness. And it is a great Gift to be sure. A valuable and ennobling capacity. But given another Lifetime, I do not know that I would not trade all of that for the ability to soar. A mindless, thoughtless, lifetime excursion in the clouds.
Or even to lift and skim the skies with speed and agility like the swifts and the swallows. I would eat bugs and skeeters for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I would gladly sleep in a hollow tree on a muggy night or nest in a dark and dank cave if it meant I could zoom out in the morning, free and fleet, blown into the sky, catapulting over the horizon. Ya-hooo!
I recognize that I am beholden to Someone or Something for the gifts I do have. Yessir. I am blessed. It’s been a good life. But I would consider perhaps bartering one or two years for several days of flying like a hummingbird—flitting about, darting, hovering, zipping up and down, levitating, disappearing--“Poof!”--like a cartoon character. Gone!
I would trade that life as an Astronaut, the one that is now not likely to happen, for even the pedestrian sparrow’s ability to hop from tree to tree. Wire to wire. Yard to yard. That quickness and seemingly endless mobility they appear to take for granted.
I would for sure give up some of my hair to experience the full-throttle, wings-back dive of a falcon. To hurtle hundreds of feet in excess of 200 mph--well over terminal velocity-- at some witless starling. To climb and then rocket hell-bent and fearless at 1/3 the Speed of Sound onto the back of an over-matched pigeon. Ka-boom! Doing what I was born to do! A little male pattern baldness would be a small price to pay.
I would give up a tooth or two and maybe a little more of my hearing to just once do one of those pelican dives—the ones where they go straight down, 90 degrees, full-throttle vertical. An arrow shot into the unforgiving ocean. As a repurposed human, a transmogrified pelican, I would snatch an unsuspecting fish, pop up, swish him around in my gullet, and gobble the sucker whole. Then with the sun on my back, preen my feathers as I digest my meal. I suggest that this is what is known as ‘a sense of accomplishment’. This, my friends, would be my finest self!
I am told that birds’ brains are small. And I do not contradict that here. But it seems that, if it is so, they do not suffer from a lack of consciousness. It strikes me that their instincts may more than compensate them for the loss of ‘thought’. That their freedom of movement is sufficient reparation for the bondage of concepts and opinions.
Additionally, I certainly know nothing about any bird’s capacity to experience joy. But I do sense as they fly about that they recognize their unique abilities. That they take pleasure in their powers of flight. It strikes me that they are highly pleased with themselves and thoroughly delighted to be born as aviators. Masters of the sky. Experiencing daily the sheer thrill and genius of it all.