“Well,” He-Eagle paused, staring thoughtfully into the distance, “I guess we’ll be flying to the highest point we can find and building a nest and beginning again. What about you and Sister Hen?”
“You know, I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and I think we’re going to stick close to Brother Noah and the children of Noah.”
He-Eagle was startled. “Do you think that’s wise?”
“I can’t think of anything wiser,” Rooster replied. “Think about it, Brother Eagle: this whole world is going to be pretty barren and uninviting until after the first spring. Not a tasty grub or tender shoot to be found. But, you know that Brother Noah and his children will be planting their seeds as soon as we hit fertile land, and the first-fruits of the earth will be theirs. Plus, they have enough food reserves to feed us all until the harvest. Yes,” Rooster nodded solemnly, “I really do not see a better way for my family.”
Within a few days, He-Eagle’s excellent eyes showed him that a purple peak had emerged on the horizon. He and She-Eagle asked Rooster and Hen once more if they would want to stretch their wings and journey with them. The chickens politely declined. So, after bidding farewell to Brother Noah and his children, the eagles left the ark.
A few weeks after the eagles’ departure, Noah’s boat came to rest on its own mountain peak, and a whole mess of weary, dirty, grumpy animals and people stepped foot again on solid land. Just as the chickens had predicted, after sacrificing on an altar and drunken revelry, Brother Noah and his children began the task of rebuilding the earth. Rooster and Hen stuck close by, pecking up spare crumbs that the people kindly left, and feeling pretty pleased with their good plan. Now, if an egg or two was taken for Noah’s breakfast, occasionally, they really didn’t miss it; they had so many.
Years turned into decades, decades to centuries, centuries to eons. He-Eagle and She-Eagle died. Rooster and Hen died. Their children’s children’s children, and so on, lived together on earth, but worlds apart. Eagles had little interest in the chickens, but the chickens had nothing but interest in the eagles. But, Child, it was not a kindly interest; it was a resentful one. You see, in the years since the Flood, chickens had forgotten that they were creatures of the air. They had become so satisfied, living with people, that they had begun to change. Their bodies grew heavier, their wings smaller.
So, Child, you can see how when the people began to farm them, they had no way to escape.
You must not think, Child, that after the earth was reborn the eagles’ lives were always easy. No. Far from it. But, they learned to hunt through layers of snow in the lean winters; they learned to build their nests in the tallest parts of trees to keep away prowling egg-eaters; they learned to stay far from the habitats of Noah’s children. They could learn these things, because they had never forgotten how to fly.
Now, one day, Child, a young eagle named Lire got a spell of curiosity and decided to leave the aerie. He flew in slow circles down from the mountain and came closer to a child of Noah’s farm than he had ever been.
A new kind of world came into focus as he descended. He saw the odd boxy shape of buildings below him. For the first time in his life, he touched the ground of the valley and looked amusedly about. Here was a strange thing indeed: A group of birds – quite fat, quite clumsy – were pecking about a large bowl on the ground filled with yellow stuff. Somehow, they had all decided to eat together inside a long grouping of trees. But such trees as that tree-dweller had never seen. Short, pure white, with no branches or leaves, all perfectly planted to form an oval and covered with some sort of moss that was hard and grey and shiny and cold. Lire flew up and alighted on one.
Soon, a proud, strutting He-Bird came out from behind the squat building that was in the center of the tree-circle. Something stirred in Lire’s memory – stories his mother had told him about the Flood and Father’s setting His children free, and about his one-thousand-times-great grandfather He-Eagle’s best friend, Rooster.
“Who is that?” the bird cocked his head and looked around the enclosed circle.
“Up here! Up here! On top of this small, white tree!”
“Oh, an eagle. Yes. Humph. Go away.”
“Go away? Are you kidding? Why don’t you fly up here and we can talk, just like our great-greats did? Or, better yet, why don’t we fly up to that beautiful pine over there and enjoy the view while we chat?”
Now, in the rooster’s chest, a great resentment burned toward Lire. The rooster had never seen the view from that or any tree. Suddenly, he wanted, with all his heart, to drag that eagle down from his perch and keep him on the ground. What is worse, he saw a way.
“Fool,” the rooster said grandly, “Firstly, you are sitting on a fence, not a tree. Secondly, chickens do not fly. And, lastly, eagles and chickens do not become friends.”
Lire was incredulous. “Well, that’s just silly. Of course we can be friends. I mean, I know you live in the valley, and I live in the mountains, but what’s a little flying, anyway? Oh wait, but you don’t fly? C’mon, that is total nonsense. I mean, Mama told me many times about the races your great-great and mine had when they were stuck on that boat all those months during the Flood. Mama said that Rooster was the only bird able to keep up . . .”
Lire said, dumbfounded, “‘Tales?’ ‘Myth?’ What’s going on? Are you trying to tell me you don’t know Father, who made the earth and all that is in it? Who saved us from destruction in the Flood? Who provides for our every need?”
“My every need,” and it was amazing how supercilious that rooster could get, Child, “Is provided by Man. Your every need is provided by scrounging around eating disgusting things and going half hungry when times are bad. Now, really, eagle, look at you and look at me. You fly about all day, looking for food, hunting it down, eating it (ugh), building or cleaning your nest, worrying about your eggs, worrying about even finding a mate – worrying and work all day long, every day, for the rest of your life. And then, having done this all to the point of exhaustion, you say that some sort of all-powerful ‘Father’ provides. Ha!”
“I don’t feel exhausted by it; I feel alive, I feel . . .”
Now, Child, Lire was feeling pretty low at this point. The rooster was right on many of the things. He did spend a lot of time hunting, and he was searching for a mate, and he did worry that his eventual progeny would fall prey to the wily egg-thieves of the mountains. He said good-bye to the rooster and sadly flew back to his mountaintop, which did, all of a sudden seem rugged and cruel rather than exhilarating. When he shivered in a rocky crag that night, he thought a little wistfully of the rooster’s snug coop.
Lire did not want to go back to the farm, but he did. He went the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. With every trip he became more impressed by the rooster’s secure situation and more humbled by his elegant condescension. In his aerie home, Lire would practice walking, trying to perfect the rooster’s barnyard strut.
Child, Lire began to court a young she-eagle named Ara. She was beautiful, proud and fierce, and Lire hungered after her with all his heart. But, Ara was a practical bird. She became more and more frustrated with his trips down the mountain.
“Why you’d ever want to spend your time in the valley, I’ll never understand,” she said once in exasperation, “It smells bad down there.”
“I dunno,” Lire demurred. “Ara, don’t you ever wish for a better life than what we have on this mountain?”
“What could be better than the clean air and magnificent views of this mountain?” Ara returned. “Can’t you just hear Father up here?”
“Hmmm . . . yes . . . Father,” Lire replied, with a guilty sideways glance.
So, one afternoon, Lire was making his daily visit to the child of Noah’s farm. The rooster had told him that only uncouth fowl ever perched on fences, so Lire was sitting on the ground, listening to the cock’s pontifications.
“Where would an eagle like me fit into the Noah child’s farm?” Lire asked.
“Shut up about ‘Noah,’ would you?” the rooster retorted. “And I wasn’t talking about on the farm anyway, bird brain. There are other places for misfits like you – animals not refined or cultivated enough to live closely with Man, but still advanced enough beyond the wild hoi polloi to deserve a little of Man’s protection. They are called zoos, and I think you’ll do nicely there.”
“Indeed. Now, come a little closer, and I will tell you what you need to do . . .”
Now, Child, Lire, had been seduced, led away from the fundamentals of his being. If his mama had seen it, she would have wept. The young eagle had grown to despise his mountaintop home. He had come to doubt Father and the stories of the Flood. And the seduction was almost complete. Lire leaned his head in, thinking of his chosen mate and their eventual eaglets hatching in the safety and warmth of this zoo-thing, when . . . Hatchlings! Progeny! Hey, wait!
“Brother Rooster!” Lire pulled back his head from the huddle.
“Yes?” Exasperated, but polite.
“Where are your chicks, Brother Rooster?”
“Chicks?” Still supercilious, mind you, but with an edge of something else.
“Yes, your chicks. Ten, fa-- . . . er . . . plump, hens surrounding you, and yet, no chicks inside your fence. Where are your chicks?”
“Ah, yes, well, chicks. We get a brood up about once a year. Really, such deep thinking as mine does not call for time to raise up a very large family, you know. Plus, that’s rather, well, gauche, wouldn’t you say, to have so many children in such an overpopulated world?”
“Overpopulated? Are you crazy? I can fly miles in a day without seeing any other eagles, let alone chickens. But, really, are you telling me that your wives are really your daughters, because . . . ew.”
“Yes, they go to new homes,” the rooster finished, relieved.
“Liar! Tell him the truth, Ralph. Tell him about our eggs, too,” called a piercing voice from behind the coop. A comely, yet rather obese, red hen waddled out. Her eyes flashed and her voice quavered, “Tell him where our eggs go – the ones that we do not hatch.”
“Shut up, Doreen,” the rooster hissed.
“But, my life is horrible. No cornmeal mush on winter’s nights; no warm perch in the biting cold; no bevy of mates,” he watched Doreen cringe as he said that. “No time for deep thinking or philosophy,” he finished.
“You listen to me, and you listen to me right now. There is nothing, nothing more precious than the freedom to fly. Once you give that up, you have damned generations. If you got yourself into a zoo, you would have a warm home and plenty of food and a hand-picked mate. And, chances are, your little ones would not be eaten by Man or beast. But, they would clip your wings. And, when your eaglets came along, they would be born into a life of captivity. And there would be fewer eagles living on the mountaintops. And that is where you belong.” Doreen was stopped by Ralph’s pushing her to the ground and sitting on her head.
As his feet touched valley soil for the last time, Doreen gave a sharp poke of her beak on the backside of her husband, and he jumped up, cackling in pain. She scrambled to her feet and called out to Lire as he soared, ever smaller into the great blueness, “Fly on! Fly always! Fly for we who cannot!”
Her eyes fixed on the sky whose corners she had never seen, Doreen added in a whisper, “Father, I will spend the rest of my life trying to remember how to fly.” Now, dear Child, do you not think she will?