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Flock Wisdom

Dreamed by Alder, 1958; illustration by Wayan

My eighth grade class (all twelve of us) are a flock of birds migrating south for the winter, on foot. It seems dumb to me, but all the others take it for granted--"That's how we do it, that's how we've always done it." Maybe they're right--when we come to an irrigation ditch, I try to flap over it, but I can't even get off the ground. Maybe that's because we're birds the size of eighth graders. I haven't had a real growth spurt yet, but I'm still nearly five feet tall, and some of my classmates are way over. Pretty big and heavy for flying birds. Still, they won't even try, so even if I do learn to fly, I'd have to leave all my friends... so here we are. Creeping south together.

As we hike along, I discover other problems with being a giant eighth-grade bird. For instance, working gumball machines is damn hard. There's this beautiful gumball machine with a fishbowl full of bubblegum, a rainbow of colors and flavors. So tempting! I find a penny on the ground, and pick it up with my beak, but I just can't get the penny in the slot no matter how I twist my head. Maybe it's lucky I can't. I don't think birds can blow bubbles. I'd probably get my beak stuck together.

We're also unclear where we're going. There's a lot of squawking about it. Nobody has pockets (or fingers), so we don't have a map.

At least none of us get eaten by cats. They take one look at our flock of weirdo birds and run.

We walk and walk. At last, we reach out winter habitat, which seems to include a lot of back yards. Right away we begin establishing our territories to nest in. A couple of the guys are a little aggressive. One grabs a fancy split-level birdhouse (two holes, top and bottom). He finds a small cannon somewhere (I think I'd have noticed if he brought that along!) and he starts blasting away at another boy. Luckily he has lousy aim. I'm amazed he can even fire it with no hands.

I find a lovely tree where I can built my nest, away from all their squabbling. But it's difficult to climb a tree without hands when your wings won't lift you. Plus I have to collect the twigs for my nest using my beak--that may be normal for a bird, but let me tell you, twigs are NOT tasty.

I try and try to climb that tree and never get up it...

I felt totally frustrated in the dream, but I woke up happy. I was delighted to be human again--with a great story, too. I've told it a lot over the years. Funny--it was so irritating in the moment, but seemed a fine adventure looked at later.

NOTE

I still wonder if that dream was advice. I grew up in California's Central Valley, in a farm town where people did things the way they always had and didn't question them. I had this dream when I was twelve; eleven years later, still wingless but full of questions, I migrated to San Francisco. I have lived here ever since.

Doodle of a white bird walking down a black asphalt road through flat dry farmland toward a distant white city. Loud orange sky. Dream by Alder, image by Wayan.



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