The light is fading faster, and the darkness is upon us sooner every day. I’ve been here a long time, two seasons, and they say it is time to go. Before I arrived with the others, we were in perfectly shaped eggs, which our Mother sat on through the chilly nights to keep us warm. Then we became and she would work all day to feed our starving new bellies, bringing all sorts of fresh bugs and such to our screeching little mouths. Father was always nearby, watching and protecting the nest and his children. Any intruders would be met fiercely by him and his sharp beak. This is the way it is in the beginning. This is how we survived. When the big ones walked by Mother and Father both were there to screech and dart around until they left. That is the way it was in the beginning.
Seasons changed and my siblings and I grew. Mother had to work so hard to feed us. The day came when she told us we needed to learn to fly and seek food for ourselves so that we could move from our little home. How scared yet excited we were! To be able to soar like her and Father would be the most monumental feat of our very young lives! We had to work very hard every day in order to be able to fend for ourselves. Something about fending for ourselves made us worry, though. Would it mean that we couldn’t snuggle up together under Mother’s wings anymore? If so, we would be alone. Alone sounded like a very cold and dark place and not at all like anywhere I wanted to be. Maybe they’d let me stay if I couldn’t fly or gather my own food.
The days of summer were long and glorious, ones of heat and hopping over the grass. My siblings and I would line up and take turns attempting flight for just a few seconds, waving our little wings up and down and falling back to the ground. Feathers flew and tiny dirt tornadoes formed on the ground from our antics. I loved to fly, but remembered that I must not let on that I do. When the elders watched me, I would flap madly about until I came careening back to the earth. They all shook their heads and looked away, muttering things like he’s not going to make it and he won't be able to take care of himself.
As the days flitted by, we learned how to peck in the ground for worms and other bugs. I have to admit that fending for myself in that way was much more satisfying than waiting for Mother to come back from her quests and fill our bellies one by one. I loved listening to the ground and hearing the faint vibrations of a worm wiggling under the ground, my beak lightly on the surface waiting for the right moment to slash into the dirt and pull up a succulent victim. For one of such small stature, I felt immensely powerful as I pulled the unsuspecting, struggling worm from the it’s hiding place. Fully satiated, I’d find a low branch to watch my siblings practicing their distance exercises and then have a little nap. I didn’t intend on any long ranging trips in the future. After all, I was staying right here in this beautiful place.
As the days became shorter, we had less time to play as we spent what light we had in the evening foraging for our dinner before darkness fell. It was still quite balmy at night with the wind softly ruffling our feathers as the katydids and crickets sang to us. Sometimes the cicadas joined in; what a raucous symphony of voices it was! We sat in the trees for safety, talking quietly to each other about what we would do tomorrow. Perched high in our tree, we giggled at the ground dwellers prowling below trying to find a way to reach us. They never could, of course, and that sensation of power filled me once more.
The day came when we awoke to the sun, but the wind blowing cold from the North swallowed its warmth. Father said it was Autumn, and that we needed to make plans to head South. I did not know what South was, but Father said it was warm there. Warm had a nice ring to it but South was not here. Here was home. Every day the leaves changed color and fluttered to the ground. The world looked very beautiful, but with each passing day, more leaves were gone which left us exposed even more to the elements. Now we realized we had yet more predatory enemies, the Falcon and the Hawk. They repeatedly circled above us, waiting until the moment came when we would no longer be covered by our canopy of color. Mother said that just one more time of harsh winds and our home would be no more. No longer feeling powerful, I came to the realization that I must also go on the long journey, away from the only place I’d ever known, the place that I called Home.
As Father gave out instructions the following morning, the last brown dry leaf fell from the tree with its ominous warning of times to come. He squawked out orders of who were to be in the leading positions in our formation and who would be in the aft cheering on the stragglers. Everyone seemed to know their appointed duty and placement. Everyone except for me. I was not prepared for this at all. I concurrently lamented that I had no desire to leave, while berating myself for my lack of preparedness and for not believing in the Elders and their truth. I plummeted into a state of deflated powerlessness and despair, too proud to let anyone know my truth.
We filled our bellies with the last worms available in the cold hard earth and the colorful berries of fall. The berries would be a welcome sight to the wintering Cardinals who would visit here. Then it was time. We formed a circle of unity and the Elders each led a solemn song handed down from the wise Sages of old, for safety and protection to cover our flock. Father led us in flight and we were on our way. The day took on a festive air at first, as if it were any ordinary day. However, the day went on with no foreseeable rest stops. The sun sank further in the sky as finally the signal sounded indicating we were stopping to eat and find a safe dwelling for the night. Nothing looked remotely familiar as we landed in a field of corn. I was completely exhausted and only the deep pangs of hunger in my belly allowed me to eat instead of sprawling on the ground, depleted of strength.
As we ate, Father explained that we would bed down in a place called a barn for the night. It looked cozy enough, but as we entered in the dimness of the hour, we were greeted by unusual sounds that were in deep contrast to the familiar ones we’d come to love. We found a warm loft with straw high in the barn where we would roost for the night. As we looked down from our vantage point through the dimness, we were able to make out shapes of the strange beasts below. They didn't seem to want to harm us. They only had been disturbed but our arrival, wanting only the dreams we had disturbed to be continued.
For me, night brought nothing but terror. I found no comfort in sleep, only nightmares of yellow eyes staring at me in the darkness and incessant screeching of strange beings filling my ears. And of my wings, flapping and flapping, harder and harder until my feathers all loosened and were bloody and sore. Then my flapping became fainter and fainter until they stopped and I awoke trembling and choking with my heart beatly madly. I forced myself not to scream aloud and struggled to make my lungs breathe evenly through the fear. I lay shrouded in the darkness with only the sinister voices of the enemies in my head to listen to until the dawn.
Daylight came and with it the happy chirps and warblings of my flock rose to greet it. Everyone was excited to get started and we went out to scavenge the offerings of the land. I could hardly find the strength to eat but managed to swallow some berries and have a long drink of water. Every inch of my delicate body screamed from the egregious calisthenics of the previous day. My siblings tried to encourage me, but were not aware of the secrets of my summer. They thought I was suffering from twinges of homesickness, and after a while, left me to my suffering. Father called us all together and shared some of his anecdotes of past migrations with us to give encouragement and to inject some humor into the day. Then we took to the skies again.
Staying near the end of the flight pattern, I felt myself veering off the path. I was quickly reprimanded by the sharp beak of the big bird flying behind us, keeping an eye out for any danger and for stragglers like me. I didn’t need any discouraging pecks to make things worse. As the day wore on, my tail feathers were bloodied and becoming loose. I was losing some of my ability to steer myself. As darkness started to fall, a sharp wind picked up and with it a cold, wet rain. We needed to land soon and the flock gathered up all their strength to make it to the next building they saw. I had no strength to gather and was haunted by whisperings of the past, the Elders’ lessons of endurance and flight practice. Why didn’t I listen? Suddenly, I found myself falling, tumbling down, down through the sky. I crashed into the trees. This is how it is in the end. I landed hard on the ground and heard myself begging for forgiveness from those I’d disrespected. I felt a calmness and peace flow through me as I slowly lost consciousness. Then all went black, and all was silent. This the way is was in the end. This is how we die.