For 50 years, one ghostly memory has haunted me. I sometimes wonder if it ever happened at all. Yet, I know the killdeer in the field was real, and it was the killdeer’s nest that inspired me for the moment I am about to tell you about. I was 12.

That summer my mother allowed a construction company to mine gravel from the pit up back and a logger to harvest pine for the mills up north, both sources of income for our big family, but that didn’t mean I approved. All day long the heavy machinery rumbled up and down the woods road that ran past our house and through the field, and that’s where the killdeer had made its nest, right on the very edge of the road in a pile of rocks. The trucks came so close to the nest that the killdeer was kept busy all day trying to lure the danger away, not knowing that it was futile. But I knew it and set out to save both the bird and its beautiful rocky nest.

I informed my mother that if she didn’t stop the trucks to save the killdeer, I would. Her answer simply forbid me to be anywhere near where any machinery was running. I ignored her. First, I built lines of mud castles across the woods road, imagining them obstacle enough to stop the trucks. Then, I hammered nails into certain trees, thinking it would cripple the logger’s chainsaw.  Neither strategy worked, of course, but I had a secret weapon, my grand design. It was going to take time, though, maybe a long time.

I was going to fly. The whole concept of flight seemed marvelously attainable to me because of the way the killdeer operated, scooting along the grasses before lift-off, that 50-yard dash, legs turning and wings flapping. I watched the bird hour after hour, and like her fake, broken-wing shenanigans, I, too, wanted a way to help when danger neared. Flying was the simplest answer, and I had a simple plan:  I would run downhill on the woods road so fast that, at some point, a lift-off would take place and I would fly. I practiced every day over and over until, exhausted, I would have to stop.

Flight finally happened.

I was on a routine run. Half way down the hill, I suspected something wonderful was about to take place, because, strangely, I felt I was moving in slow motion. At the same time, though, my face felt like it was outside an open window of a moving car.  I noticed the smell, too, almost that of burning rubber, but sweet, like rhubarb sauce bubbling over on the wood stove. I wasn’t surprised by any of it, not the take-off, not the flight, not the landing.

Sometimes, when I think back, I wonder if I had actually tripped and was falling, not flying. I also wonder with joyful amazement at a little girl’s courageous attempt to save a bird. I know it is not a dream, because the gravel trucks stopped and the logger left and the killdeer eggs hatched. My plan worked, but that was the last time I saw the killdeer. They never came back. The field was no longer welcoming, no longer their home.

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