Flights of Fancy

It was July 3, a day before one expects dazzling aerial displays. And it was the middle of the day, about two o’clock, long before the prime pyrotechnic hour. On this nearly perfect afternoon I sat in the shade of an apricot tree looking at the mountains on the other side of the valley, the valley containing the well-known San Andreas Fault, contemplating the slow changes that had shaped these heights. The large oval of sky above was a blue no pigment can match. It was a deep crystalline blue, filled with depth and light and framed with black-green pines, gray-green oaks and yellow-green elderberry. The rugged textures contrasted sharply with the smooth polish of the sky. Bees worked orange, magenta, and lavender blossoms. Hummingbirds climbed high, dropped, and then rested on low slung limbs. Warm enough to encourage complete relaxation of mind and body, the day was also cool enough to keep the sometimes-maddening insects at a warmer level high above the ground. I floated, like a bather in a tepid ocean.

Suddenly the oval sky was pierced diagonally by a bird flying fast and straight as an arrow. Another bird followed and then a dozen more. Another dozen and another. Now swooping, pirouetting, diving, turning. The sky was filled with birds with light underbellies, black wings and tails and fast as lightning. The warm silence of the day was punctuated with the sound of cheeps and chirps. The hummers abandoned their acrobatics releasing the air to these sky dancers. Wings fluttered then canted in motionless aerodynamic perfection as the sleek forms knifed through the blue. The appearance from below suggested penguins swimming swiftly and effortlessly through a glacial blue ocean, but flashes of brilliant iridescence caught in the rays of the sun as the birds wheeled about the sky. Never stopping, the plunging, soaring, seemingly random dance continued on and on leaving me dazzled and transfixed.

Finally, little by little, the air cleared. Only a few random swallows remained feeding on the insects that had produced this amazing spectacle. More abundant insects further on lured the rest of the troupe to new performances for other audiences.

And suddenly the day once again became still. The seemingly eternal mountains on the other side of the valley continued their unseen drift northward interrupted every decade or two by a minute, but sometimes devastating, lurch. More insects with life spans of an hour, a day or a week filled the sky again. Will there be Violet-Green Swallows bringing brilliant performances to languid summer days as Los Angeles glides steadily northward and aligns itself on the ridge across the valley some millions of years from now?

What a vision of independence for mind, body, and spirit this spectacle encouraged! And what a stage setting! No Independence Day festival can rival this celebration of freedom; no fireworks can be as grand.

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