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Learning to Fly

MY eldest son's first word was ''bird''; his sister, following some seven years later, stood under the great fir trees that ring our cabin and called out to the ravens with the same sunny affection and delight she offered to her parents.

Now Gabriel, my youngest, walking and running freely after many struggles, trustingly asks me to teach him to fly. What could be more natural? True, he has not yet seen any of his human family fluttering in the trees with the towhees and juncos and the glossy ravens. Perhaps he supposes we fly when he's not looking; he is very very certain I can show him how.

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Now in early spring, the ravens call to one another, making an odd liquid sound. It is like water being poured from narrow jugs. Gabriel runs into the woods and calls back, lifting his arms like wings.

And who am I to tell him he can't fly? What I do tell him is that I have never learned, nor have I ever met anyone who knows how to fly like our raven friends, holding to the currents of air, playing on the wind, turning, falling, soaring free over the dark fir trees, over the silvery oaks and the shining madronos.

The same wind that the birds dance upon touches our faces as we watch. Gabriel signs again, ''Fly, mama? Up!''

Looking into his eyes, I glimpse a free flight of the spirit. Maybe my smallest child will, after all, teach me how to fly.

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