Flight School

by tobias crabtree


It’s not like I’m an expert at this or anything. I’ve never even really been able to say when it’s gonna happen or why it’s happening. Once when I was talking to Ruby (Ruby is 7 years old), she told me that she can do it whenever, but only just a little at a time. Flying might not be for everyone, but I personally don’t know why you wouldn’t want to. That fourth dimension that is so not linear, the movements in every direction. The blueness that is all around you. No wonder Ruby says she can fly, she’s so little and light; a bird in everyway. I remember her looking up with eyes made of sky and saying, “Tobe, um, how is the sky and the birds, I mean, are they hooked together?”  If you ever wanna melt my heart, and you’re talking to me and you wonder what words you can use to gain my attention, just ask me that kind of question. Hell if I know, little Ruby, but they might be connected from way down inside to the tip of their wings. No wonder the birds sing!

My younger brother Cory and I got our hands on a huge, red and blue umbrella. I was 4 years older than him and I could, especially then, talk him in to just about anything. This particularly pretty winter day was one of those ones that I remember like it was yesterday. We were on the roof of our two story house on Newland St., Ma and Pa still live there and maybe they are even sitting there right this moment remembering when 5 kids ran wild through every room and hall. But yeah, Cory and I were talking about flight and all the possible freedoms it offered. We could float to the hills and go fishing without even asking, you know, we can’t be blamed for floating up into the sky! Ma and Pa would understand, and besides, they’d be so proud that their sons had been so brave. But first a test flight, and Cory, as I explained to him, was smaller and lighter and so more suited for the job. Brave little dude furrowed his brow and looked at me as I, half believing it might actually work, nodded and gave him the thumbs up. Part of my theory was that if you left the umbrella down, kind of half collapsed, that it would flare open after you jumped and then drift up onto the breeze. Little Cory white-knuckled the hook handle and jumped up and out right after giving me the I’ll-see-you-after-I-float-back-to-earth look. Two things happened: The jump up made the umbrella snap in the closed position and Cory crashed into the cyprus bushes growing by the front porch. My mother, who was cleaning in the kitchen, saw my brother fall past the big front window. I covered my ears and ran down off the roof and towards the front yard. My ma ran out, still carrying the broom, and Cory thought she was coming to give him a whack for having jumped off the roof. I turned the corner in time to see my brother crawling like a hurt bird as my ma ran towards him with a broom. It all worked out. Cory had two sprained ankles and a sprained wrist along with some solid scratches on his forehead. I was grounded from the roof and any further flying experiments. My ma is still appalled to think my brother thought she was gonna beat him with a broom. I’ve learned that flight takes more than just a good imagination and that any such real attempt to fly should be left to birds, bats and aviation experts. Unless, of course, you happen to dream.

The majority of my flight dreams involve me doing something awkward in order to gain altitude. In my most common dream of flying, I gotta run in a straight line and then, slowly but surely, my strides become longer and longer. Sometimes I’m able to leap a really long way but I tend to turn sideways if I try to go too far. Flying takes great concentration, at least in my experience.

Swings are kind of like flying. If they’re big enough and over a river, you can feel birdlike for a second or two. Being in the tops of giant trees allows you to peek into the world of the birds as they move both above and below. Like when Markus and I broke out of the top of a giant cyprus tree in Golden Gate park and the ravens flew from all around and landed on branches and stared at the two of us. Their curiosity was obvious and they just couldn’t stop chattering lightly between themselves. Markus and I had to laugh. We just laughed and sat in the sun and looked out at the ocean where the surfers surfed and the seagulls seagulled and the boats boated. I think I climb trees because it separates me out from the rest of the world. Maybe it’s a little like flying.

I’m sure an orca would tell me that swimming is just as cool as flying. He would probably tell me about his forays under the ice where the world becomes aquamarine and the only sound is his thunderous heart. He might tell me of his hunting technique and how he has tipped icebergs and swallowed seals whole. And there would be stories of older orcas who dived to amazing depths and maybe he would roll his big pink tongue and tell me their names with reverence. I would want to know if he can see colors from sounds and if there are monsters in the depths and I would ask him about his preferences in music and love. Oh yeah, and I would wanna know about migration and whether or not he communicated with other worlds. I would ask him about his dreams and his terrors and if there are languages among the creatures of the sea. Does a whale from Japan have a heavy accent? Can he understand the tongues of the fish and the birds? Does he think about getting old and dying? The ocean is such a mystery, perhaps I might rather have the power of deep water diving, like a whale or elephant seal, so that I could bear witness to that wilder world.

Instead I am an earth dweller. A ground walker with an overactive imagination. I’m a dreamer of the flights of the birds and the deep water divers. I am forced to wait for the night so that I can fly while the stars, those wonderful conjurers, kick-start my dreams. I’m no more than a single soul, touched by a terribly beautiful world in which I have learned to stumble around and fall through loves and hurts and frights and wonders. I was a kid full of dreams who did a bunch of laps around the sun and became a kid full of dreams and wrinkles. I like Ruby’s take on things…that every time I leave the ground just a little bit, I am flying.