Surrounded by Air

May 22, 2022

Acts 16:9-15
John 5:1-9

by Eric Anderson

The young noio was confused.

The world was, let’s face it, a fairly confusing place, especially there on the ocean-fronted cliffs of Kamokuna. There’s a lot of wind down there, and that plays with your mind. There’s a lot of noise from the waves breaking against the cliffs, and that’s just distracting. And in addition to the things he felt most of the time – the warmth of his parents’ feathers, the ruffling of his own feathers in the wind, the warm sun of day and the coolness of night – there was the occasional spatter of wind-driven spray.

All that would confuse anyone.

His nest gave him a great view of his world. Perched on a rocky shelf, he could see far off into he distance where the ocean stretched away. He could see the other noio skimming the water’s surface and dipping their beaks in and sometimes diving in briefly before taking off again. As day began the other birds of the colony would take off and begin their fishing above the ocean. As day closed they’d fly back, landing at their nests and bringing food to their young – like him.

What confused him was… flying.

It didn’t frighten him, the way it did some other birds in some other stories I’ve told before. It confused him. He didn’t understand how it could work. He could clearly see that it did, but as far as he was concerned it simply shouldn’t work. How could gravity be so much a force here at the nest and stop being one when a noio had left it? How could his wings flap against nothing and accomplish something? What invisible thing were the other noio grasping – and wings can’t actually grab hold of anything – to change direction like that?

It was terribly confusing.

I don’t really know why he didn’t ask anyone about it. His parents were kind and caring, his grandparents wise and intelligent, all good qualities for someone looking for a good person to answer questions. But he didn’t. He didn’t ask his friends in neighboring nests, and he didn’t ask their parents, either. Maybe he was just trying to work it out himself. I don’t know.

So when the day came to take his first flight, with his parents and grandparents and friends and their families all watching in anxious pride, he was anxious, too. Could he do something he didn’t understand? Was that the magic to flight? But he stretched out his wings, did a hop or two, and the next thing he knew he was off the ledge and moving.

Somehow there was a substance to the nothing he couldn’t see beneath his wings. He could use his wings to shape it and push off from it, and there would be more when his wings came forward again. A subtle adjustment meant a turn. A greater adjustment made a tighter turn.

And since noio are members of the tern family of birds, turn about is fair play.

He flew back to the home ledge and successfully landed with a bit of a flurry of wings and feathers for that first attempt.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“You don’t understand what?” asked his father.

“I don’t understand how it works. I can see rock. I can see water. But I can’t see what I’ve been flying on.”

“It’s air,” said his mother, “the same air you breathe, the same air in the wind. No, you can’t see it, but it’s there, always there, and it will carry you anywhere you want to go.”

Watch the Recorded Story

This story is not told from the manuscript above, but from a memory of its composition.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

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