The Migration of The Midnight Naturalist

ONE late October night, Mr. Rosiello appeared again under Max's window. Hearing the familiar whistle, Max pulled himself over to the chilly window and peeked out from behind the curtain. Mr. Rosiello was bathed in moonlight, his glasses glinting as though his whole face were smiling. That made Max suddenly happy. "Hurry! Hurry!" whispered Mr. Rosiello. OK, Max thought, I'll see what he's got planned for tonight. Careful not to wake his mother, he padded down the stairs.When Max reached the back yard, there was Mr. Rosiello with two folded lawn chairs leaning against his leg and his arms reaching up toward the glow of the full moon. "Che bella luna, no?" Max had no time to nod. Mr. Rosiello thrust one of the lawn chairs at him and marched off toward the driveway. "Where are we going?" Max was tripping over his blanket. "Away from the lights." Draped in blanket, Max climbed on the back of Mr. Rosiello's moped and the two gray shadows sped out into the night with the lawn chairs clattering in the wind. They parked near a meadow with two knolls. The field had been hayed three weeks before. Now the grass was just long enough to fall over itself in little clumps that looked like waves. The two figures waded through the waves and rounded the top of the first knoll. Panting, Mr. Rosiello let his chair fall in a heap. Then he pulled his winter muffle r out of one drooping pocket in his overcoat, his collapsible hat out of the other pocket. He wound the muffler round his neck, punched his hat into the proper shape, and snapped it on his head. The two restless silhouettes reclined their lawn chairs and settled down for a long look at the moon. When he caught his breath, Mr. Rosiello said, "Oh no, I think I'm sitting on my binoculars." He heaved himself off the chair onto his knees and rummaged in the deep pockets of his overcoat until he fished out the strap that led him to the binoculars. "There. Now we can see what we came to see." Back in his chair, he chugged closer to Max, handed him the binoculars, and began whispering as though the show were about to begin. "Did you ever notice how many faces that old man up there has?" However, when Max looked through the binoculars, he didn't see the usual shadows on the moon. "Hey, something's moving up there!" Mr. Rosiello could see hundreds of black specks swarming in the moonlight. Finally he said, "Ah-h-h si, si. The birds are moving, Max. It's time." He explained that during migration North American birds travel four major "highways" from the cold north to the warmer south. He and Max happened to be sitting in the middle of the Atlantic Flyway. After a couple of minutes, the horde of small birds jittered out of sight. Then, a silent skein of geese floated across the moon. The old man and his young friend watched, barely breathing. When the loose V-formation slid into darkness, Mr. Rosiello explained the wild goose wisdom of flying in the wake of the bird ahead: The leader of the V-formation cuts an opening through the wind for the geese behind him. When the leader is tired, another mature goose comes from behind to take his place. It makes the long trips easier. "But," Mr. Rosiello lamented, "there are great dangers. Some are not so strong to make the flight. And this is the Hunter's Moon; many geese will be shot down. Sometimes birds lose their way in the fog or they become confused in unexpected storms. They fly and fly in all the wrong directions. Some fall out of the sky." Then, as another flock rippled against the moon, Mr. Rosiello lifted the binoculars to his eyes and slowly tracked its flight. Time stopped marching forward and drifted like the unwinding skein of geese. Mr. Rosiello was no longer earthbound on his lawn chair. "Yes, to the wind!" he exclaimed under his breath. "Al vento!" After a few moments, he turned to Max and announced quite matter-of-factly, "I know what it is to fly with the Canadian geese." Max's eyes just blinked in the darkness. "I know it because I have flown. Do you know what it is like to fly, Max?" "No-o-o-o," said Max warily. "How do you know?" "When I first came to America as a little boy, I used to dream that I flew with the migrating geese," he said. "But that's just dreams," Max replied. "Be careful what you call just dreams, Max. Sometimes our sleeping dreams are truer than everyday realities." "Were you a bird, or were you you, in your sleeping dream?" "Hmmm. I'm not sure. Maybe I was both! I remember facing into the wind and feeling the lift. That's how you take off. You open your wings to the wind. Such a power in earth's breath! Thousands of muscles set the feathers as I pumped. I was afraid. I thought I might drop to the ground, but the land fell away beneath me. At last, with the tiniest wing adjustment, I wheeled around to fly with the wind. I took a breath and felt lightness spread through my body and wings. Flapping was easy then. Every house, every ribbon of road, every mirrored pond my vision made perfect. I was safe." "Where were you flying in your dream?" "Where?" Mr. Rosiello drew a breath and looked intently at the moon. "I don't know." His eyes searched the sky for some memory. "I was flying a far distance, even though I was such a young boy - or goose." Then, his eyes widened and he turned directly to Max. "I was flying home." The naturalist and his apprentice talked past midnight. Mr. Rosiello told of the long boat ride across the Atlantic when his parents brought him to their new country. He poured out his childhood memories of Italy. He talked about the air and the sunlight and the voices on his street. Max was amazed how clearly he recalled the little details of his Italian home. Especially when Mr. Rosiello said he had never returned. "But why haven't you gone back?" "It gets harder the older I get." "What's so hard? You could fly on a plane. That's a lot easier than the way you came." "There are dangers, Max." Mr. Rosiello said that he was afraid of the changes he'd find, that he would feel lost, that his well-kept memories might be found untrue. "I could be like the disoriented bird who loses his way," he said finally. "But you said it was natural for birds to migrate between their two homes. You said homing was built into the birds. Wasn't it built into you, too?" Mr. Rosiello only shrugged. In the days that followed, Max and Mr. Rosiello trekked to the pond where migrating geese stopped to rest. As the geese grazed in the grass, they gabbled and jabbered to themselves. Whenever a new family descended from the sky, it caused a great commotion of wing flapping and honking. "These are the noisiest birds I know," said Max. "They can't be the same geese we saw the other night." "Oh, geese are always chattering. You just don't hear them when they fly so high," answered Mr. Rosiello. Like the geese that drifted silently beyond the faraway moon, Mr. Rosiello's memories of his first home fell away. Once again, he put aside thoughts of flying. But his apprentice could not forget. One night, Max woke up to something outside. It wasn't Mr. Rosiello. It was a strange, muffled barking. As it drew nearer, Max recognized the happy honks of geese and figured they must be leaving the pond. Please, please fly over my house, he thought. He held his breath as the sound grew and grew in his ears until he was surrounded by geese calling to him. But it was only a moment. Too quickly, the clamor climbed the sky and diminished into a comforting mumble. Soon the geese were silent. It was the fin al flight south. As he lay in bed smiling, Max knew what he must do. It would take some time to convince Mr. Rosiello, but some day soon Max and Mr. Rosiello would board a plane together. This time, the young goose would open the way through the wind and call, "Al vento, Mr. Rosiello!"

'Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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