How the Insects Learned to Fly
Written in February 2004
A long time ago in a land far, far away there lived some insects that wanted to fly. One day a bird flew by and landed in the insect’s den. One of the insects asked if he could hop on the bird’s wing. The bird said, “Of course not. Find your own wings!” It was the end of the day when all of the insects had a turn to ask a bird if they could fly on their wings. It was getting late so they went to sleep. One of the insects saw in the dim light a feather fall into their den. The insect crawled over the feather and started breaking it into smaller pieces. A bird not far from their den saw the insect. In her nest not so far from sight she tried to study what the insect was doing. When the insect was done it was morning. He told the other insects to tape the small pieces of feather to their arms. They tried to fly. They flew! When they flew they saw crops, caves, and piles of leaves. The birds thought it was scary. The End
Here we are with another Aged Anecdote! This one’s for in case you ever wondered how insects came to be winged critters, how they went from crawling little buggers to crawling-and-flitting little buggers. This story is also very driven by vocabulary words, so if it seems to meander a little bit, it’s because the author was going out of her way to include a set list of words for class.
Our creation fable begins in a place very distant from where we live today, in a time far in the past from our current existences. In this story’s foreign land, there are insects—-insects who we are to understand from context do not have flight capability yet, and who desperately long to fly. They spend their lives in their insect den, watching the birds fly past so effortlessly and almost tauntingly.
Apparently it is a fateful day when one bird lands in their den. Excitedly, an insect approaches the bird and asks if he may ride upon the bird’s wing. Does this insect ask any bird he encounters this question? Or one day, does the question finally burst from him, as he goes out on a limb to request this? It seems as though this insect’s survival skills are misguided though, because he is more thrilled about an opportunity to fly than apprehensive that this bird that may choose to indulge in a little afternoon snack of “ants on a log,” sans log.
The bird is considerate enough to make a complete embarrassment out of this insect’s polite request, scoffing and advising that this insect find his own wings for flight. With this line, the author very cleverly and discreetly foreshadows the end of the tale, when the insect finally takes advantage of an opportunity to make his dreams come true.
For the rest of the day, the insects of that den continue to ask birds if they may ride upon their wings. There is some ambiguity in the writer’s language, as to whether the insects are all asking different birds who stop by their den, or if they are all lined up in front of the original bird asking His Birdliness over and over again, “May I hop on your wings?” I’m inclined to interpre that, for some reason, it was a considerably high-traffic bird day in the insect’s den, and all the insects make an effort to inquire every bird his interest level in lending a ride.
As for the birds, it’s possible that every bird who entered the insects’ den that day was individually inconsiderate and selfish, and each bird turned down the insects for his own maniacal satisfaction, but I believe that this disgust towards helping bugs was probably socialized in the birds. From a young age, I’m sure that the birds were taught bugs are imbeciles, and that their inherent properties are as follows: grossness, stupidity, and inferiority to all birds. So while there may have been some “good birds” that turned down the bugs (Maybe their mothers taught them, “Never give a ride to a stranger”), and while it would have probably been quite easy for a bird to give an insect a ride—-the bird probably wouldn’t even notice the insect was there—-they all automatically and definitively say, “No, I will not give a ride to an insect.”
But the insects persist throughout the day, and finally after their long day of soliciting birds, they break to rest for the night. Pestering others sure takes the energy out of you. But as all insects begin to drift off, one lone insect notices a feather drift upon the breeze and waft into their insect den. Lo and behold!
Where did this generous feather gift come from? It falls before one insect from the heavens as though a Deus ex machina—-or is it? Perhaps it was an accident, blown into their den on the breeze, a feather that fluttered from a bird’s wing as he was cleaning himself upwind from the insects. But perhaps, if you have a little faith in the good of creature-kind, you may choose to believe that the feather was actually an anonymous gift, from one bird too careful and shy to reveal herself; yes, perhaps this bird felt some guilt in her heart for her kinsfolk’s greed and selfishness, for the birds hoarding their unique fortune for themselves. Maybe this bird saw that the insects, although tiny and tasty and a little gross, were still mothers and fathers and children with needs and dreams, and decided to tip the scale a little bit more towards community and equality.
The chosen insect works tirelessly through the night in the “dim light,” and the author pans out a little bit to view the insect from the perspective of a nearby bird in her nest curiously watching what the insect does. (But wait; is the bird observing the insect the one who gifted him the feather? Did she anticipate that he would share the feather with others, or did she think that perhaps the insect would fly himself and give others rides? Maybe this is why she studies him so carefully and curiously.) The insect works tirelessly throughout the night, motivated by the vision of flight.
Remember when the first bird told the insect, “Find your own wings!”? Well our insect has finally found his own wings! But rather than break the feather into two pieces to form his own massive angelic insect wings, he cares about his community and breaks the feather into many small pieces of feather. Because they’re insects, their wing size requirement is much smaller, and so by working through the night, the insect is able to divide one feather into enough wing sets for his entire community!
This insect then instructs the others on how to adhere their makeshift wings; apparently tape is readily available to this colony of insects. (This story is sponsored in part by Scotch tape. “Scotch tape gives you wings!”)
When all the insects are geared up, they give a collective test run, and with the miracle of perseverance and insane belief, the insects are somehow able to use those taped-on feather bits to fly upon the wind. No matter the fact that maybe only one insect should have tried it first; can you imagine the horrific outcome if their test flight had failed? Hundreds or thousands of insects hopefully leaping and merely falling to their demise. It would be an incredibly traumatic day in insect history. But, even though the insects have no muscular control over the flimsy feather bits, through the power of will and magic, they are able to succeed in their airborne endeavors.
Watching in horror are the birds. Denying a pesky little insect one favor is not dangerous. Screwing over an entire nation of insects who have now learned for themselves how to achieve what they had been asking nicely for and been denied… is risky. The birds may now learn something about karma. Do you think the first thing the insects did was round up a gang of their toughest insects and give payback to the rude birds, swarm-style? Or, do you think the insects may forego revenge and teach the birds a lesson with their words, giving a speech about the importance of withholding judgment of others and helping out one’s neighbor, no matter their differences?
That all happens beyond the “The End,” which means it’s up to you to decide the birds’ fate.
Thanks for reading.
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