[Contains some sexual content.]
When you ask people what they think flying means, many people, both human and therian, will say, “freedom”. And, there is some truth about that, in my mind. Freedom to move in all dimensions. Freedom to travel far. Freedom to escape the land.
But, freedom seems a small word, to describe what it really is.
If freedom was all we wanted, then flying in a plane would satisfy a bird-person. But, though humans who fly in planes have a lot of different opinions on whether it fills the ancient dream of flight, most bird-people agree, something is missing. Maybe it is being trapped by the metal shell, protected from the wind, the rain, not able to truly touch the pure blue sky. But if moving without gravity in three dimensions, with nature touching the skin, was all we wanted, then swimming would be enough. The ocean stretches around the world, as far as the sky. If we are thinking about only freedom, then swimming is as free as flying.
But we know it will not satisfy us to fly in a plane, or swim. We want something more.
I think we use the word “freedom” when we talk about flying, because we don’t have other words. And so, we use this rough human idea that has similar kinds of feelings. Open space, travel, movement, power over gravity: we can describe all these things as having a feeling of “freedom”, and, people have a very rough idea of what we mean. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s more detailed than that.
Flying can not be described by “freedom”, in my opinion, more than sex can be described by “pleasure”. We have a thousand ways to describe sex, enough words that we can write millions of stories about it and none of them are exactly the same. Why do we think we can exist with just one word for flying?
Maybe, we need to start borrowing from sex.
When I watch birds fly, when I take the small experience of flying in a hang glider and mix it with my experiences of moving physically through water and land and something that I can maybe call “memory” or “ancestor knowledge” or just “having a bird nature”, I get so many feelings about what flying is. Flying is being intimate with the sky, making love to the sky. Flying is a dance of trust and love, like falling backward into someone’s arms, where you have to believe that the sky will hold and catch you. And, every moment that it holds you and keeps you safe, is a moment where you know that trust is true.
Flying explores the wind the way that a lover’s hands explore the body of their loved one. You are so close that you can move with each other, and know every curve of each other. The wind rises to catch your wings and push you high, and it is like skin moving under you with pleasure, hips rising. A thermal is like the breath of passion, hot and sudden and full of energy, making you soar as it soars. The movement of wind through feathers, is like fingers through hair, tickling and touching spots of skin that never see the sun.
You move, you catch the wind and hold it with a curve of wing as you turn, and the wind melts against you and everything flows like water, and you have a feeling of pride, knowing that you have skill, that you can reach this harmony.
You fold your wings, you dive, you surrender to the trust of the wind, and the fall shakes your heart with excitement, it makes your whole body tremble, it makes your senses go sharp, it folds everything into one moment of truth.
You land. You are tired, but happy. You feel the blood rushing and pounding. The memories of wind on your skin.
“Freedom” is a small word for this.