Wing Spread


All hell broke loose, webbed feet and wingtips scrambling across the water from the shoreline behind the lilies. The young hooded merganser rocketed out inches over the surface, then gained altitude as she fled the nest. The feathers of her comb quiffed back, she had the keys to the car and the radio cranked.
She and Del were singing little “Runaway” half way across the lake until she lowered her landing gear, cupped her wings and skidded gracefully to a stop. Her adolescent shape bobbed on the light chop. With a quack more like a squawk, her up-tempo numbers careened from greenstone to greenstone at three-second intervals for over an hour.
Unable to sit still for long amidst her revelry, she relentlessly practiced takeoffs and landings. Using the same two locations just 50 yards apart, she circled overhead and buzzed the towering cedars. Beneath the water at each end of her runway, two turtles poked their noses through the surface, monitoring intently, her air traffic control.
She questioned going home. With siblings growing as fast as her but devoid of ambition, the nest was getting a little cramped. Out here her head felt so clear. Flight euphoria opened her to guidance, trust and intuition.
Catching her breath, she noticed something she hadn’t before. It was either a submerged log or a four-foot fish. If it was a fish, she’d have to tell the family; it’d feed them for a week. It wasn’t moving, but it also wasn’t there a moment ago. Time enough for thought later. She collected herself to have another go around the lake.
Five feet off the water, a mouthful of teeth snapped at her just out of reach. But rather than tarry over escape, she circled back and came in from behind, three feet above the fish. The different angle let her get a glimpse—greenish body, white splotches dashed from head to tail and dullish-red fins.
She did go back home. She told her folks the fish story. The next day, she found where they hid the keys and struck out again.


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