Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Nature’s Pilots

The Owl Tree and me

I'll bet I've shared that experience with nearly 500 students, and every one of them reacted in the same way. As they'd be standing under the tree staring up, not knowing what it was they were looking for, and I could always tell the exact moment when they'd catch sight of my unnamed friend. Their eyes would light up, and a grin would crease their face. Every pilot to whom I introduced The Owl was visibly affected. I think it's a pilot thing: There's something about flight that bonds many of us to birds of all kinds.

Just yesterday, Marlene and I were having lunch at an outdoor patio, and birds were everywhere around us. I was focused on a single sparrow at my feet that didn't even acknowledge our existence as he hopped and flittered around on the floor, picking up crumbs here and there. I started crumbling bread and flinging the crumbs some distance away just so I could watch him seamlessly transition from being a two-legged hopping creature to one that knew and utilized the third dimension as if it were part of his soul. I found it fascinating how easily he flew just a few feet. He appeared to draw no hard distinction between being on the ground or in the air and transitioned from one to the other with zero effort.
I knew them all…They shared their existence with us, as if saying, "I fly. You fly. So somehow we must be related." I think they're right.
As with all sparrows, this one was tiny. In the big picture of life, he was probably judged by most as being insignificant. I, however, saw him as anything but insignificant. Here he was, a fragile little thing that I could easily crush in my fingers, with a brain so small I probably couldn't measure it, yet he had mastered flight with no outside help. And I haven't. I need all manner of expensive apparatus to fly. He needed nothing.

In actual fact, I think I'm jealous of the sparrow. His flight and his life haven't been cluttered up by those artificial burdens we've placed upon ourselves. The sparrow has only to worry about feeding himself. He doesn't worry about catching up on his emails, what the next politician will do or what disaster will befall him. I think I'm most jealous of his simple life. Where did we go wrong?

Now, every single time I drive onto the airport, I think of my Owl. Except it's not actually a single "owl:" My friend was the third great horned generation to live in the same tree since I've lived here. I knew them all. And each would tolerate us poking our noses into their private world. They shared their existence with us, as if saying, "I fly. You fly. So somehow we must be related." I think they're right. And there are definitely worse things in life than being related to an owl.

Labels: FeaturesPilot Talk


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