I lift my head from where it was tucked under my wing. The first chill wind of winter has hit. The force of its gust knocks the leaves out of the tree and I watch as the world momentarily swirls red, orange, and gold. Then everything settles again. I extend myself as I rise then jump and catch myself before I drop too low. The ground is sparse, far more than I’ve ever seen before. Granted, I’ve never experienced a winter. My greatest hope is that I never do. I’m going to fly south where it’s warmer and there will be more food to hunt.
I return to my nest. The nest I hatched in not too long ago and the one I’ll be returning to once winter passes. At least, I hope I’ll be returning here. Another chill wind hits like a slap and I tuck my head back under my wing. Steeling myself as the wind passes, I spread my wings and jump. The first few flaps are enough to take me above the trees and my journey begins.
I look to the sky and the stars, though dim in the sun, tell me which direction I need to go. Looking back at my nest I try to memorize every aspect of the area. Every tree, rock, and recognizable landmark burns itself into my brain. Then I look forward. Determination pierces my body and I flap my wings a little faster. I have a very long way to go.
As night falls I swoop lower to find a place to sleep. There’s a thorny bush that can camouflage and keep me safe as long as I get far enough into it. I land with grace just by the edge of the bush. I sharply turn my head from side to side. I spot a small opening. Curling in on myself, I duck down and fit myself into the hole. It’s a tight fit and I feel more than one thorn stab into me. That’s a good thing, though. It means that predators, at least, won’t be able to get to me. I find a place that isn’t going to poke me too much and crouch down until my legs lock into place. I tuck my head under my wing and allow sleep to overtake me.
The next morning I maneuver my way out of the bush. I ruffle my feathers as I stretch my wings. I take to the air to glide above the trees, memorizing this area too. When I come here with the flock next year, I want to be able to find that bush again. Pressing forward, I flap my wings again and again.
Hours pass and as night falls I search for some kind of food. It takes a minute, but then a mouse scurries across the ground. I dive. On the dirt, I begin to devour my feast. I hear a sound behind me. A rustle of leaves, the breaking of a stick. I twitter around nervously, leaving dozens of little footprints everywhere I hop. Then I jump as a cougar pounces. I feel the fur of its head brush against my feet then it lands where I was standing just seconds ago. Beating my wings as hard as I can I try to create as much space between us as possible. It extends its body and claws, but I’m already far beyond its reach. I screech anyway, in an attempt to scare it away. Shaking off its frustration, it slinks off to find another victim. I continue my journey onward, ignoring the beginnings of a harsh fatigue.
After flying all night and day I find myself in a place with gigantic structures, bright lights, and strange creatures. Circling in the air, I search for somewhere to rest and eat. After a moment, I spot a pile of seeds on a branch, of some sort, hanging in the air. I perch on a conveniently placed ledge and begin eating my fill of seeds and nuts. One of those unusual and large creatures is watching. It makes some odd gesture and moments later an even more domineering figure comes by its side. They’re both staring now. I stare right back. Nervous energy courses through me and I hop nervously from side to side, flaring my wings occasionally. Once I’m finished with the seeds I fly a very short distance to where they keep their water. They seem unperturbed as I drink. Then I slide in and begin splashing. It’s one of the few moments of respite I’ve had on this journey, and I savor every second of it. Water reaches skin that normally remains untouched and refreshes and rejuvenates me. I shake off the excess droplets then burst into the air. This is most definitely a place to remember for next time.
The last stretch of my flight is a long one. Days pass. I’m exhausted. The simple act of flapping my wings has become almost impossible to do. Every muscle in my body is straining just to stay in the air. It can’t be much farther now, but if it is, I’m afraid there’s no way I’m going to make it. I glide for a while but I drop too low. Extra energy, that I can’t afford to waste, is spent to keep me from hitting the ground. My breathing is too shallow and too deep at the same time. I’m dropping again.
Then I hear it. I see it. The birds of my kind soaring through the air and chattering away. They’re resting on branches or searching for food, but they’re all here. They catch sight of my figure bouncing through the air and swarm to me to offer support. When I land on a branch we all huddle together. I see clearly, for the first time, where I am. It’s colorful, bright, warm, and overflowing with sustenance. The perfect place to rest while winter passes back home. Cuddling up to the ones nearest me, I close my eyes to rest. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and content to know that next year we’ll be doing this journey together.