Saturday Stories: How the Albatross Got its Wings

Photo: Peter Weiss

Photo: Peter Weiss

“Grandma! I dreamt last night that I could fly!”

“Yes, child. Of course you did. All those born of our ancestors do.”

“Why is that, Grandma?”

The old woman sighed. “Because once, we could fly.”

“Fly? How could we fly?”

“Many, many years ago, before I was born, before my grandma was born, before even my grandma’s grandma was born, the People had wings. We spent all day in the sky.”

The girl gazed upward while the old woman continued. “We soared with the kettles of broad-winged hawks in the autumn and kept the arctic tern company on her long migrations. We flitted with the chickadee amidst the winter-bare branches, and swooped silently with the owls in the night.”

The old woman chuckled. “We challenged the peregrine falcon to races—and always lost. We danced with the woodcocks in the air. We explored every bit of this land, from mountain to sea. We followed the Great River to its source in a small trickle welling up from the ground, and then to its wide mouth at the sea.”

The ancient eyes no longer looked at her granddaughter—their vision was focused far away.

“Then the Flightless came, with their treasures from the earth—gold, silver, precious gems. They worshipped these treasures, and taught the People their value. The Flightless showed us how to dig and mine, how to extract these treasures for ourselves. We forgot the sky. The silver ribbon of a river glinting in the sun was replaced by silver chains. The glitter of the northern lakes was lost to the glitter of polished stones. The golden rays of sunset gave way to the gold sheen of metal.

“We fashioned jewellery from these treasures. Bird-shaped earrings, necklaces of delicate feathers, pendants showing our own forms with wings outstretched. But we forgot what those wings were for. The tern flew alone, and the falcon raced only the wind. We dug and we delved into the dark earth, forgoing the sky.

“We began to crave the bright treasures. Those who found more than their share hoarded them jealously. Those who found less, stole.”

“When Albatross came to ask for our wings, we gladly cut them off our own backs. Wings were in the way in the underground mines. We could dig much easier without them.”

“Albatross took our wings and put them on his own back. He flew off, never to return to land again. He soars forever now over the sea, exploring the world, and landing only when he must. He lives with ease and dies with a sigh of contentment, for he has seen the wonders of the earth. Meanwhile, we live in toil, and die with our bodies and spirits spent. Rarely do we even look to the skies. We have forgotten the wind and the sun, the pull of stars, the sight of all the world spread out below us.”

Grandma smiled wistfully and sighed. “I suppose it is just a legend…a legend of flight.”

“But, Grandma…I know I flew last night! I went up and up until our house was just a speck, and the fields were wrapped around it like the quilt on my bed. And the forest was so dark and cool-looking, and I could even see the sea off in the distance, and the sun sparkled off the waves, and…Oh Grandma, it was so beautiful!”

“Yes, child. Don’t ever forget it.”

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