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Fly Away

Sarah thinks of Leda and the Swan

Fly Away

Well, Sarah was sitting on Hay Bluff (looking out at Lord Hereford’s Knob) at the turning point of the year: not the solstice, but the gathering of the migrant birds at the very end of summer. In the trees below her, the branches were heavy with them: swallows twittering, getting ready to fly south. Sarah was reminded of a scene in Wind in the Willows, where Ratty longs to migrate with them, and prepares a little red knapsack for the journey. She could do with a knapsack too, one that was not weighted with regrets.

What other birds were common here? The red kites, wheeling over the fields after harvest, following the tractors and mewing for their food. Once Sarah had mistaken a red kite’s cry for a child’s, and had searched the hedgerows for an abandoned baby. There were other raptors too, looking for prey: the mice scuttling from the plough would make a tasty meal for someone.  

Hang on. What was that? A huge bird appeared from the west. It looked like a Golden Eagle, though she knew that they were not in this area. The occasional Sea Eagle, yes, but not this. It would be a twitcher’s triumph. But this bird was massive: as it circled above her, she saw that it was as big as a human, with a 10-foot wingspan. Its beak was as big as a carving-knife, its claws were like gigantic shears. It was coming in to land.  

There was a rocky outcrop 6 feet away fom her, and the bird dropped and settled there. She could see it in close-up now: the round eye fixed on her, fierce and uncompromising. Eagles were not migratory birds, she knew. It was not readying for a longer flight. What did it want with her? Was she its prey? Did it think she was a hunter? In a moment of panic, probably brought on by too much classical reading, Sarah thought about Leda and the Swan. Was she about to be ravished by an escapee from an aviary? She thought of Yeats’ Leda poem: “A sudden blow: the great wings beating still/Above the struggling girl...” That was not comforting.

But that was not how it turned out. The huge bird rose and hovered above her, its claws outstretched. It called and called, with a sound midway between an invitation and an encouragement. Sarah realised that it was offering her a flight: not to sunnier climes, but away from here - away from the old life, the old desires, the old regrets.  She lay down on the ground, and the eagle landed on her, picking  her up with its talons. They did not feel sharp, they did not wound. They were just firm.

And that’s how Sarah made her escape. Safe in the eagle’s grasp, she saw the landscape beneath her now: the escarpments, the villages, the tumuli hidden in plain sight, the coming sunset. It was wonderful. Of course, there was always the possibility that the eagle would drop her. But that was a risk she would have to take.

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