CHAPTER TWO – The Journey
Fortunately the day was warm and the sky a clear blue with soft puffy clouds distributed evenly across the horizon. While aware of the small bird mounted on his back, the eagle wasn’t the least bit gentle as he launched himself into the air wildly flapping his wings, an action that weakened the songbird’s grip and nearly threw him to the ground.
Once the eagle gained height, retracted his talons and streamlined his body into a flattened flying position, the ride became smoother as they ascended slowly with the eagle powerfully pumping his wings into the currents.
Although still apprehensive of the journey, the songbird had become impressed by the skill of the eagle as he navigated through the wind. He himself had never learned to fly far, and required continuous movement of his wings to stay aloft.
The eagle was not the least bit modest concerning his abilities. Upon gaining altitude he quickly dipped low to follow a current and then ascended steeply to follow another, an act that forced his passenger to reestablish his grip on the big bird’s crown feathers. The songbird sensed that in executing aerobatics, the eagle was neither callous toward, nor fearful for his passenger, but merely indifferent, knowing that if worse came to worse, the songbird had wings of his own he could use to stay aloft, and that the larger bird could always swoop down and catch the small bird and fly him to a treetop to rest before continuing on the journey.
The songbird had never before reached elevations as high as those now attained by the eagle, and was astonished at how tint the people, buildings and cars appeared far below.
As the pair made their way southward, the eagle dove through a cloud and descended over a wide body of water. As he neared the shimmering surface, he caught sight of himself in the water below and thinking he had come upon another eagle, curved upward to avoid a collision. After rising several meters he circled around and looked back towards the spot where he had confronted the other eagle, but the bird had vanished. As he flew closer to the water, he was caught off guard when his challenger reappeared, attacking feet first with his talons extending.
At first, the songbird was confused by the eagle’s response, since he hadn’t been able to view the confrontation from his perch on the eagle’s back, but after a few passes, he caught sight of what the eagle was seeing below—the eagle’s own image in reverse.
This reminded the songbird of the day his master had installed a mirror in his cage to provide him with the illusion of a companion. At first, he was tricked by the image of another bird occupying his cage. But, after some posing, preening and singing to the image, the songbird realized that the other bird was nothing more than a reflection of himself.
“Has not the eagle learned over many flights what I learned inside my cage?” wondered the songbird.
In an effort to carry out an attack on his reflection, the eagle dove into the water. Before hitting the surface, the songbird leaped from the eagle’s back and into the air, flapping his wings as quickly as he could, watching as the eagle became totally submerged. It took several moments for the drenched bird to resurface and when he did, he was unable to fly and forced to swim clumsily towards the shore.
Knowing that he would never be able to swim that distance, the songbird beat his wings as fast as possible to stay in the air and try to reach the water’s edge. Frantic for his own safety, the little bird sensed a draft of warm air approaching from the water towards the shore. Remembering how the eagle had flown when leaving the bakery, the songbird lowered his head in line with his body, stretched out his wings as wide as they would reach while angling their tips and caught the current of breeze that lifted him up and carried him past the water’s edge and onto a grassy knoll.
Although powerful in the air, eagles aren’t well suited for swimming, and it took quite a while for the large bird to reach the shoreline. The songbird watched him struggle onto dry land, and flew to meet his companion as he came to rest after a few awkward steps.
“Are you okay, Mr. Eagle?”
“I’m just fine,” stated the eagle breathlessly. “I guess I showed that stupid bird who’s boss. I’m sure we won’t be seeing him again.”
The songbird thought for a moment before speaking, and then asked softly,
“Have you never seen your reflection?”
“Reflection?” questioned the eagle.
“Yes. An image of yourself in reverse?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I know for a fact that there are many eagles living by the water who’ve sprung up at me in the past. Usually, I scare them away before they reach me, but with you on my back, I wasn’t able to fly as quickly. But, I believe he got my message.”
“Oh, my!” thought the songbird. “All of these years and Mr. Eagle’s never seen a mirror. Or maybe he just hasn’t taken time to think how unlikely it would be for a bird to attack him flying feet first from beneath the water.”
Living at the baker’s house, the songbird has watched his master’s wife and daughters make up their faces and fix their hair in front of mirrors. So even though he’d been caught by surprise in his cage upon seeing his own reflection for the first time, he already had an understanding of what a mirror was and how it worked. But the eagle hadn’t seemed to learn from his many encounters with his own reflected image. “Oh, my!” he thought.
After drying off in the sun, the eagle was ready to continue, and told the songbird to again climb upon his back. Better prepared for the takeoff, and having learned something about flying, the songbird was less apprehensive about the next phase of his journey.
“Have you ever been to the city?” asked the eagle as the songbird lead him to the knoll where he had landed, which happened to be the highest point from which to begin their flight.
“Not that I recall. My owner lives in a small village near his shop, and he never takes me with him when he leaves on business.”
“The city’s filled with things to see and do, and has many people living in it.” said the eagle. “Sometimes it’s quite enjoyable to frighten people by casting a shadow on them with my wings. It’s a trick I learned when I was just an eaglet. Over the years, my wings have grown and now if I get into just in the right position...”
“Excuse me, Mr. Eagle. Don’t you sometimes wish to make friends along your journey?”
“Friends? I don’t have much use for friends...eagles or people. I’ve had mates and chicks to take care of, but that got tiring. And, as I said before, other eagles are always competing with me. It’s more enjoyable fighting than it is trying to find friends, especially when looking for a mate.”
“Then why did you ask me to join you on this trip?” questioned the songbird. “Didn’t you want to be friends?”
“Whatever made you think I wanted to be friends with a prisoner”
“Well, it was you who stopped by today and began to talk to me. You could have just eaten your fill of pie and gone on your way. Why did you invite me on this adventure?”
“To show you...(pause)...to show you how I live and what I get to see every day when I choose to leave my nest.”
“So you care about my opinion?”
“Well, not exactly care about it. I just wanted you to see... Just forget about being friends and get on my back and come with me. You might have some fun.”
A few miles east of the shoreline, a smattering of houses came into view. As they continued, the few houses became many along with other buildings of various shapes and sizes. The streets became longer and wider, and were filled with trucks, cars and scooters moving in all directions, along with wide sidewalks lit by traffic lights, billboards and signage.
They soon found themselves flying through a canyon of glass and steel beneath which emanated a cacophony of screams, cries, laughter and conversation interrupted occasionally by a siren, a boom or whistle.
The eagle flew to the roof of a tall building and perched on a segment of piping. The songbird climbed from the eagle’s back and joined him looking over the cornice into the windows of offices lined with computers, and populated by busy workers rushing to and fro.
“I truly wish I could hear more of what they’re saying down there and over there,” said the songbird wistfully as he pointed in different directions. “From here those below all seem like the droppings I leave, but I know from the stories told by those in my own family that each of them has a tale to tell, songs that fill their hearts, hopes, dreams and people they love and care about. It’s wonderful being able to watch them at such a height, but I know that what we are seeing is just a small part of the lives they lead.
“For God’s sake, bird, can’t you just enjoy the view?” exploded the eagle. “The city’s alive because of the millions of nameless people who’ve built it and maintain it, and then knock it down and start all over again.”
“They’re not nameless, Mr. Eagle.”
“We’re all nameless, Mr. Songbird. But most are more nameless than others.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Let me help you with that. Here I am, an eagle. And just maybe, I’m one of the grandest of all eagles. At least of those I’ve met. Just being an eagle makes me superior to many other creatures as well as most all birds.
“And there you sit, a songbird. You live in a cage, have little freedom, and contribute little to the world besides an occasional song that few will hear. You’re much like those in that office over there. And when you die, they’ll go and buy another songbird to fill your cage.”
“That may be true, Mr. Eagle. But isn’t that the same as you? Except that my family will care when I pass on. Will anyone miss you?”
“I’m an eagle!” he stated emphatically. “And because I’m an eagle I’m more important than you. Now let’s go and have some fun.”
The songbird couldn’t understand the eagle’s logic, but he wasn’t on this journey to criticize or explain his own point of view. The eagle was being honest in how he perceived life, and without the eagle, the small bird wouldn’t have had a chance to see this part of a world so unfamiliar to him.
After soaking in the view of the city in all of its magnificence, and recording to his memory all that he could from the perspective he had at the moment, he flew over to the eagle’s back, grabbed hold of his head feathers and readied himself for flight.
The eagle stood proud as he viewed the city he knew well and then flew from his perch across the chasm created between the tall structures, out of the city, and into a suburban community distinguished by neat houses with well kept lawns, tall steepled churches, restaurants, gas stations and children’s playgrounds, and across the parking lot of a large food market occupied by shoppers hurrying from cars to the store and store to cars pushing grocery carts and carrying bags.
Sighting a lone woman with a child, the eagle swooped down, shading the mother from the sun with his expanded wings and expecting her to cower. Unfortunately, for the eagle, he picked the wrong pair to approach, and instead of displaying signs of fear, she countered, grabbing fruit just purchased from her bag and pelting the eagle. The songbird, sensing danger, flew off the eagle’s back and positioned himself on the roof rack of a nearby car, as the woman’s son encouraged his mother in her fight, with other shoppers joining in.
The eagle hadn’t been prepared for the bombardment, and it put him off his game. He was far too near to the ground to rise quickly into a flight position and began to fall backwards when a large dog raced through the throng of shoppers, dragging his owner behind him.
Fearing for the eagle’s life, the songbird let out his highest note which was unheard by the crowd, but stopped the dog in his tracks, enabling the eagle time to get his bearings and struggle upward, away from the angry mob. Once he gained some altitude, the songbird left the roof rack, flapping with every ounce of power he had to catch up with the eagle now soaring far above. Seeing the songbird, the eagle circled back and flew beneath the small bird, creating a landing strip upon which the bird finally could land.
No words were shared between the two. With the noise of the wind, neither would have been heard, even if one wished to speak. The songbird knew he had saved his companion by singing at a pitch that could be heard by dogs but not by humans. He had discovered this trick one time when threatened by the family cat, and had screamed his loudest. No one in the family knew that the songbird had raised its voice, but the shriek he let out scared the cat into the kitchen and far away from the cage.
The songbird later learned that humans have a more limited range than either dogs or cats, a fact that was good to know when sharing a home with a natural enemy. Eagles, on the other hand, have excellent hearing in the lower range frequencies, but not near as high as those of dogs, cats or even humans. The eagle, therefore, had no idea why the dog had stopped chasing him, and was pleased to think that the massive canine had backed off due to fear of him, and not because of the notes sung by the tiny songbird.
Once again in open air, hundreds of feet above the earth, the eagle was in his glory, and served as a capable tour guide for the small bird who was whisked along on a journey above a rushing river to a waterfall, over a forest of giant redwoods, and into a race with an antique biplane, controlled by a pilot obviously exhilarated by the company of the giant bird flying near his wing.
The songbird knew that the journey would soon to be over, but was happy to have had the opportunity to experience so much of the world outside as well as to better his understanding of the tales he’d heard told by humans. In just a little more than two hours, he’d discovered a great deal about the eagle, and had used his own skills to save the giant bird from danger. He’d visited a city, flown alongside an airplane, and had followed a river from its source to its descent while traveling on the back of one of the greatest birds on earth.