In the subdued light of the early evening, I had a first not been consciously aware of the two birds. It was not until they had swooped over the roadway in front of my windshield that I decided to pull over to the side of the road and watch.
Another car had also stopped and a father and his young son, about four, had gotten out. The little boy was staring with curiosity at the two birds, his arms around his father's legs.
The birds were sparrows -- a mother and her chick, probably. The would disappear behind a tree for a moment and then, once again, fly into our range. At one point, they dropped so alarmingly low I was afraid they would be hit by a car. The little boy tried to run out into the road to catch the tiny bird, but his father held him.
The tiny bird must have fallen from his nest or was just learning to fly. His frail wings lacked the strength to keep him aloft more than a few flaps before he started to sink again.
It was obvious his mother was going to have to keep him aloft, because once he fell to earth, she would be unable to help him. Tirelessly, each time he began to sink, she would fly under him, balance him on her back until they were higher, then toss him in the air for another try. There was no chattering or twittering. This was serious and exhausting. she had an urgent assignment and was not going to surrender. I watched with wonder and respect and affection, feeling somehow as though the scene were a gift to me, wondering how I had earned such a lovely sight.
The birds had been out of sight for several seconds when they suddenly reappeared from behind a giant maple. They were higher this time and the tiny bird flapped his wings at least 10 times before tiring.
"What if he can't do it?" I heard the little boy ask his father.
The birds were out of sight again. I wondered why I had never witnessed this scene before. Was it a commonplace sight to most people? I had always thought that young birds were tossed out of their nests by parents that knew instinctively when they would be able to fly, and the fledglings flew.
I have seen sparrows -- always, everywhere, familiar, self-sufficient, lively -- identical -- never doing anything spectacular. But it must have taken extraordinary strength for this sparrow to continue to toss this little one in the air. Exceptional effort to save a single life is common enough but always, to me, a spiritual thing to watch, and I watched these two birds with a particular reverence.
Once again the birds appeared. This time the fledgling seemed stronger. They flew toward a pine tree by the side of the road and in the waning light, I could see that they had landed on a branch and were sitting very close. It was the first time I had not seen them in flight, and my tension relaxed. Thinking they were safe, I started to get back in my car.
The little boy was staring thoughtfully at the branch where the sparrows were sitting.
"If he couldn't have flied," he told his father as they, too, started to get their car, "he could have walked along the ground with us."
Suddenly, the mother bird took off high into the sky -- alone. After a second the tiny bird flew after her, strong, confident and triumphant, following her into the gigantic sky, his wings never weakening.
I watched them fly out of sight and felt a joy as triumphant as that flight.