Fall liftoff for ducks and kids

It was early autumn. Many migratory birds and butterflies had already taken to the skies, southward bound. Those still on their summer stomping grounds were gearing up for imminent flight. But not all were ready yet. On a peaceful pond near our home, a pair of wood ducks carefully hid behind some protective pondside plants. It was molting time for them; old feathers had already fallen off, new ones had not yet fully grown. The ducks were most vulnerable now, in their temporary flightless state.

At my home, there was some "molting," too, albeit of the human kind. Tammy was counting down the days till her first migration: She was to leave for college in England.

The past year had seemed interminable, as she felt that the walls of her childhood home were constricting. Oh, to be out on her own, away from smothering parental rules, to "become herself." That soon became the leitmotif of Tammy's teenage song. Her adolescent feathers were worn and frayed, ruffling against adult constraints.

Finally, the endless months had passed. Tammy coaxed the last two brightly colored shirts into her stuffed suitcase. Old clothes were shed for new; long-loved games and toys were left behind, along with remnants of her childhood. I watched as she slowly zipped her computer case. She glanced my way.

"What if my roommates aren't nice?" she asked. (Do I detect a note of trepidation?)

"What if I don't feel well? It's so far."

"You'll be fine," we reassured her. "You're just a plane ride away."

At the airport, everyone was cheerful. Tammy joked and smiled until her flight was called. Then we shared one final round of hugs, kisses, and goodbyes. She scooped up her bulging backpack and prepared to board. After five or six determined steps toward the gate, Tammy turned back to us, her voice now small and quavery. "I'll miss you...."

Early the next afternoon, Tammy phoned to announce her safe arrival.

"Yes, it's nice," she said quietly in answer to our questions. "But I don't know anyone."

She sounds so vulnerable, I thought.

When I returned to our nearby pond, the wood ducks had already gone; their sturdy new feathers had grown in. I had missed the big event, but someone had seen them lift off and take flight toward their winter home. Once again they had made it safely through their flightless interlude.

Bright autumn days sneaked slowly toward the first nips of frost. It was even colder in England, Tammy told us when she phoned a few weeks later.

"It's terrific here!" Her voice was exuberant. "Teachers brilliant ... classes great ... gotta go – bunch of friends are waiting."

I smiled. Tammy's new feathers have grown in, too. And she's up there flying.

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