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Indigenous Teens & Young Adult Adventure

Red Feather Flight

By Marc Stutzel

Eagle Tehan is mindfully sensing the afternoon's northern breezes as the tranquil young man sits upright, yet relaxed, with lids gently closed.  His legs dangle over a wooden platform that sits atop a Great Grandaddy-sized lofty Red Oak. The focused young man is full-blooded First Peoples in heritage: his mother, Cherokee, and his father, Lacota. Eagle’s stocky, lean, well-defined muscular anatomy is fitted with cream-colored leather shorts. His Indigenous DNA-expressed bronze skin is gently toned from copious sun-time-induced melanin dispersal.  He chose the briefs to allow him the largest skin surface area to sense and, thus, analyze the temperature and speed of the intermittently fluctuating breezes flowing around his body.

Eagles’ physique is that of a powerfully built athlete: stocky and lean, with well-defined muscular anatomy. The disciplined young man's multi-sport physique is balanced with predominantly upper-body muscle mass atop thick marathon-trained legs.

 Eagles mid-back, shiny raven black ponytail is tied with a braided leather strip embellished with a red raptor flight feather that dances rhythmically with the slightest breeze.  A poke-berry-dyed purple headband adorns his scalp.  His necklace holds a string of polished half-inch turkey leg bones. In contrast to his impressive physique, Eagle’s demeanor is quiet, kind, and compassionate.

The intermittent breezes Eagle is sensing stem from passing thermals. He feels the breeze temperatures on his face, outstretched forearms, legs, and bare torso. Warm, moist, rising air passes along his bare body, then transforms into dry, cool, down drafts between the thermals. The breezy cycle repeats, although not in an easily predicted pattern. Predicting the upcoming thermal requires another sense: vision.

These wars of the winds result in ‘funder and lighting,’ as his grandmother used to call a storm when he got scared by the booms. Her name was Ahyoka, and she did “bring happiness,” as her Cherokee name defined her. She taught him how to count between the boom-booms so he knew when the next would sound out. As a child, he would still hug her until the worst of the funder passed.

Eagle is training his bird brain, sensing the breezes on his well-defined lean muscular anatomy. He looks forward to his first hang-gliding lesson that needs to wait until a South day, a required incoming wind direction for the South-facing training hill. Until then, he must remain patient with a head full of book knowledge on aerodynamics, micrometeorology, and all the safety rules accompanying any hang glider pilot. He learned early on to think of the wind as a fluid like water. The wind passing over a mountain top where one flies produces eddies and swirls just as water over a creek rock. Danger lies in those wind currents and can toss a glider without warning. It can happen in a field behind a mountain. One must pick their landing zones carefully. There are formulas to figure danger zones based on wind speed and mountain height. Flying is an art and is filled with science.

Eagle has a Type-T personality, T designating thrills, which he inherited from his dad, Mato, and what a Bear he was. Mato saw his son's brave nature at an early age, which he thought was a little too courageous sometimes. Thus, Mato guided his son with wisdom: “Have fun and be safe. Thrills without the spills.”

As Eagle feels the breezes pass over his body, he hears a distinctive high-pitched, drawn-out teeeeeee. He knows that bird. He has followed her for many years. She has a nest close by. He looks up. Sure enough, a graceful brown and rust Red-Tailed Hawk circles overhead, riding a thermal, attaining hundreds of feet in ascension with each three-hundred-and-sixty-degree circle. 

Eagle, “Hello, pretty Red Feather. Oh, how I envy you. Someday, I will fly beside you in a glider.”

Eagle rolls over, setting his body prone like Red Feather. He lies prone, head hanging over the deck, stretching his arms laterally. Then, he closes his eyes and focuses his mind, envisioning his arms as wings floating aloft on the warm breezes, imitating Red Feather's soaring position. 

Eagle reminisces about returning to a Northern Great Plains plateau that he reached after an extensive morning hike. He is in awe, overlooking the great grass prairie. Buffalo graze, half buried in the wind, undulating waves of tall grasses as they roll across the vast expanse of the prairie as far as his eye can see.  A herd of horses farther to the north are running towards him. 

Drawn to the wild herd of painted ponies, Eagle feels the strong and steady incoming breeze on his face and outstretched arms.  He gazes skyward towards the sun. And behold, there she is. Red Feather soars between him and the hot yellow orb, her shadow cast upon him. Eagle closes his eyelids, and, feeling the strong, steady, warm breeze, Eagle launches.

He drops down the cliff face to gain airspeed, then gently levels off with a gentle wing adjustment to lift his leading wing edges to slow and feel the updraft from the incoming steady breeze. He rapidly feels the uplifting air from the wind hitting the cliff face and then heading upward. That’s it. Ridge lift. He reacts to the winds lift effect on his wings by gracefully banking right and speeding up slightly ninety degrees. The turning maneuver loses him a little elevation but gains him that sweet spot gliding parallel to the cliff face. He is taking advantage amid the smooth breeze of ridge lift, a sweet spot distant from the cliff's rocky edge and the wind shadow where there is no wind, a potentially perilous no-fly zone.

Eagle is relaxed, enjoying a steady, smooth gain in altitude with his wings set for best glide, a speed safely beyond stalled, and losing elevation with too much speed. Not too slow, not too fast, but just right for his current requirement to attain the best lift aerodynamics.

Developing a bird's wind sense is critical to a long life of airborne survival. A sense one must demand upon themselves as their sapien brain evolves from a wingless terrestrial bound creature into a proficiently trained thoughtless bird brain with the spinal cord reflexes required to become ‘one with the wind.’  

Eagle releases a long shrill, “Teeeeeeeeeeeee….” as he is lifted skyward towards the plateau of the ridge in the breeze's strong, smooth, steady current. Soon, he will be well above launch. He can feel it, and Eagle is soaring along and above the cliff's rim edge within minutes. Miles off to his left is the gorgeous galloping equine herd headed his way.

Eagle must use a bird's best skills to fly into the wind.

Eagle hears a voice within, ’First we must gain the highest altitude possible in the ridge lift then fly into the wind meeting the thermals”.

The steady incoming North wind is enough to gain him a thousand feet above launch. At the peak altitude, he scans the prairie grasses and notices an undulation-breaking rhythm out of the prairie grass in sync with the surrounding undulations. The out-of-sync tall prairie grass movements continue towards him and into the trees, leaves rustling below him at the base of the cliff. He suddenly realizes his vision is acute as if wearing field glasses.

He is not surprised to feel a warmer wind pushing him back over the plateau. He banks North straight into it, rotating his wings to an angle wherein his forward speed is equal to the incoming thermal wind speed. The resultant vectors cancel each other out, and he finds himself stationary, floating above launch. The upward-rising thermal wind raises him higher than he had gained with ridge lift alone.

Eagle feels the breeze slightly cooler, causing a reflex within him to angle his body downward to gain speed.

He thinks, ‘Fly fast in cold sinking air, slow in warm rising air, the former to race to the latter’ as he leaves the plateau and heads out over the vast expansive open prairie towards the herd heading his way and the Bison herds. ‘Meet me halfway, pretty ponies, meet me halfway.’

 A medium-sized growing cumulus with a darkening, flat base is next in a cloud street heading his way. Eagle is screaming along at an impressive airspeed into the wind, although much slower about ground speed, as he courses high above the Bison. They behave entirely at ease as they meander haphazardly, doing what they do best: munching on prairie grasses. Calves from the spring birth season lay around and look to be asleep.

 Eagle passes under the cloud, now even more significant. He is only about one thousand feet above the prairie when he feels his right-wing lift and reflexively banks into the warm, moist, rising thermal air.  With each circle, the Buffalo below appear smaller. A few turns and a thousand feet higher, his bird brain knows he can make it to the horses on his next glide but continues his rapid ascension.

‘Teeeeee, is he ever having fun as he climbs well over five hundred feet per minute. It is getting quite cold now. He is rising too fast. He pulls in his wings and dives out of the strong cloud suck.  He shoots out of the thermal as he descends into the cooler air, then slows and inclines less sharply towards the herd, picking up more speed.  Eagle now sees a large white, black, and brown splotchy painted pinto carrying a man mounted bareback leading the herd. 

As Eagle glides closer, he realizes it is his grandfather, with his feather-adorned sun-bleached white braids flapping rhythmically in the wind as he bounds along astride the mighty steed.  A bow and quiver of arrows hang from the left shoulder of Black Elk's dark, leathery skin, outlining his well-defined, lean, muscular body. 

Eagle, soul embodied, dives as he emits a long, single shrill, “Teeeeeee....” Grandfather looks skyward towards him. Black Elk holds his arms laterally, upward, and forward in an embracing gesture and starts chanting. Eagle, now overhead, turns in steep banking circles, rapidly dropping in elevation. With weight shifting and leg action, Grandfather slows the pinto to a halt. The tawny warrior projects his right arm to his side as he continues chanting. Eagle circles once more, banks, and makes his final glide toward his Spiritual Warrior guide. Dropping his tail and slightly flaring his wings, he slowly decreases his speed. At the last instant, Eagle fully flares his wings, stalling completely to alight gently upon his grandfather’s forearm. Eagle folds his wings. 

    Grandfather speaks in the archaic First Peoples Lacota tongue, “Greetings, my grandson. I am happy you have found the gift within such a lovely bird to share your spiritual journey. It will soon be time for you to join me in your quest to learn the old ways of the Great Spirit world. Your mind has grown with this gift and is prepared to start your journey to learn the teachings of our fathers. I am saddened for you as well. Soon, your heart will be broken, and you will cry many tears. I will be waiting for your return here in the tall grass prairies. I will guide your healing and growth into a strong warrior and Spiritual Traveler.” 

    Eagle Tehan feels the floor against the front of his torso, legs, and arms. He looks to the West to see Red Feather. She is gone.

Eagle does not need to look. He knows. He twists his neck to gaze straight overhead, and there she is, floating above him, eclipsed with the sun, and he is her shadow.

Eagle becomes engulfed in her fully dilated black pupils and projects, ‘Thank you, Red Feather, spirit sister.’

Red Feather glides North, catching an incoming thermal, then banks gently right and starts circling. She gains sufficient altitude, then tucks and dives over the upwind ridge.

Eagle knows Red Feather is nestward bound. He closes his eyes and feels a warm, moist breeze flow over his body.

March 09, 2024 04:42

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1 comment

20:00 Mar 14, 2024

I saw a mistake with " his father, Lacota." Its actually Lakota. With a K not a C.


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