A Walking and Climbing Talon
Friday was cloudy with thick rain clouds hanging over the mountain, but Matica and Talon still walked to Ramah for his practice. They hadn’t arrived back home when bullet-sized raindrops thundered down on them. Running the last hundred meters to the village, they took shelter in Amos’s house where Talon pressed himself close to the wall and waited, anxiously looking at Matica and the rain.
‘Poor Talon,’ said Jose, who had come home to shelter from the rain as well, ‘it looks as if he does not like the rain, but it will not last long. It is too heavy.’
And so it was. After ten minutes, it stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The blazing sun shone through the clouds, filling the air with hot dampness. Steam rose from the muddy ground and big puddles of water.
As Matica and Talon walked home, Talon went around every big puddle and stepped over the smaller ones, but he would never step into a puddle. Coming to the stony ground in front of the house, he shook his feet to shake off the mud then went inside.
‘Did you tell him to do that?’ Mira asked, amazed.
Grinning, Matica shook her head. ‘No, but he must hate mud and water. He never stepped into a single puddle.’
Talon didn’t go out to continue his training again until late afternoon when the puddles had dried up. Mira prayed they would have fine weather for their walk the next day.
And so it was.
It was a sunny Saturday, still a bit wet and humid, but not as hot as before. No clouds hung over the mountain. It was as clear as it could ever be.
After breakfast, Mira packed their lunch into the basket. Crayn had told the Indians what they intended to do for Talon and they thought it was a great idea but wondered if Talon could manage the long walk and the climb. They volunteered to carry Talon, but Crayn just smiled. ‘That would be a good idea, but I don’t think Talon would let himself be carried.’
On the way to Ramah, Aikon was bubbly and cheerful because he loved the adventure, and Mira hoped that Talon would make it. Crayn thought to himself, Well, I won’t carry him. And Talon? He chatted happily.
Tamo and Tima met them halfway to Ramah. After a short rest at the rock in Ramah, they walked on, but Talon began to limp just as they arrived at the place where the poachers had hidden the egg. They had a long rest, but his limp didn’t get any better; he waddled slowly and let his head and wings drop. Only the encouragement of his parents made him go on. Now and again, he would run and flap his wings to relieve his feet.
‘What can we do?’ Matica said, concerned.
‘Uh-oh… there’s nothing we can do. We can’t carry him,’ Crayn said. ‘Just go on, Mat.’
In the end, after nearly four hours of walking, they arrived at the foothills. Stopping, they admired the scenery. Talon lay down on his side on the grass, relieving his feet.
‘I’m glad I came,’ Mira said, admiring the view and the mountains. ‘I’ve never seen them so close. What beautiful scenery.’ She waved her arms around, inhaling deeply. ‘It’s so peaceful here.’ Looking at Talon, how he was laying, she said, ‘He needs a long rest before he can climb, so we’ll have our lunch here.’
She sat beside Crayn and unpacked the lunch. Next, she looked at Talon and shook her head. ‘Look at him. He really must have sore feet to lie down like that. I truly hope he can fly back home. Tsk, tsk, a climbing bird.’
Crayn pulled a face and whispered, ‘Home? Flying, yes, but not home.’
Mira looked at her daughter in concern, then whispered to Crayn, ‘Don’t let her hear that.’ Louder, she said, ‘I have to admit, Talon has done very well up to now.’
‘Look up there,’ Matica said, as she and Aikon sat beside her. She pointed at a high ridge where Tima stood. ‘She’s showing us where Talon has to go.’
‘Oh my, oh my. Isn’t that a bit high?’ Mira gasped. Crayn just shook his head.
‘We’ll see, but see the next ridge?’ Matica asked. Mira nodded. ‘That’s where they had the egg. At least we don’t have to go way up there, but we still need an easy way up. Tamo!’ she called him. ‘Could you look and find an easy way up for us?’ Tamo immediately flew off.
As they packed up their leftovers, Crayn got up to see if Talon was ready to go on. He sprang to his feet and followed him. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘here we go.’
Now came the last part of their journey. Talon was tired and still limping, but he shook his head impatiently as if to say, ‘I will and I can do it. Let’s go!’
Mira and Aikon stayed behind and watched them go up the mountain.
Zigzagging up the wide, soft and grassy path with Tamo flying before them to show them the way, it was easy going in the beginning with the ground only sloping upwards a little at a time.
‘Dad, no wonder the poachers could get up here so easily and quickly,’ said Matica.
‘Yeah. Tamo should look for a higher place for their nest egg, but I think the bad part of the climb is still to come – for Talon, anyway.’
After half an hour of steady climbing, the path became steeper and narrower the higher they went. For Talon with his short legs, it became very difficult. At times, he had to walk sideways, letting his tail hang over the edge and with his raised neck scraping along the slope. One time he lost his footing, but he grabbed the grass on the cliff with his beak and held on firmly until his feet found the ground again. He grunted with effort. He really pushed himself to the limit.
When Crayn looked up, he could see there was still a long way to go. He didn’t think that Talon would make it, but after another half hour, they were quite close to Tima who still sat on the ridge above them. Just then, Tamo landed beside her and both of them encouraged Talon to climb to them.
On the last part of the journey, Crayn and Matica crawled upwards on their hands and feet then heaved themselves over the ridge. Standing up, they watched Talon. He spread his wings to balance himself then clawed his talons into the dirt of the vertical slope and, step-by-step, with deep grunts, he climbed that last, difficult hurdle. He strained his body to the utmost limit of his ability.
Accomplishing it, Talon fell onto the plateau, puffing heavily. Tamo and Tima nudged him then flew to the next plateau and screeched to encourage him. They had a good view from there of whatever Talon was about to do.
‘Dad, look at the view! Mum! Aikon!’ Matica yelled down. ‘You should have come up! It’s breathtaking up here! Hey, Dad, what’s that?’ Surprised, she pointed to a little valley they could just make out between two high peaks. ‘No, it can’t be, but it looks as if it was an old settlement of the Incas. Is that possible? Out here?’
‘Why not?’ said Crayn.
‘So, it is?’
‘Oh yeah, and we can visit it when you come with me to Cajamarca. It’s nearly on the way.’
‘Really? That would be marvelous. I’d love that.’ She looked up at Tamo and Tima. ‘You two always have that great, amazing view.’
‘Hmm, true,’ her father said, then looked at Talon. ‘He’d better plunge down now, I don’t want to stay up here too long. How about it, Talon?’
The Big Jump
The ledge Matica, Crayn, and Talon were standing on was quite narrow, so Talon had just enough room to lie on it. ‘Hey, Talon,’ Matica said, ‘what about jumping?’ But Talon did not move. He opened his eyes and looked questioningly up at his parents as if to ask, ‘Should I do it now?’ Matica interpreted his look. ‘Okay, let’s do it.’
Talon got up and looked down over the edge. Alarmed and startled, he stepped backward and bumped his tail on the rock behind him. He looked at Matica, frightened, then he grunted and nestled sideways against the rock.
‘Oh no,’ Crayn said, sat down and put his head in his hands. ‘He’s scared. A bird scared of heights?’
‘Talon!’ Matica yelled in surprise. ‘Is that true? That can’t be. You’re a bird. Birds are not scared of heights. Come on, you have to jump.’ Matica went to the edge and looked down just as Talon did before, but quickly stepped back. ‘Whoa, that is high.’ She put her hand on Talon. ‘You’re not used to the height. I understand, but…’
Crayn narrowed his eyes and said, ‘Hmpf. He’d better get brave and jump. I wouldn’t like to think we have done all this for nothing and he continues to be a walking bird.’
‘Tamo, what should we do?’ Matica called up to him. Tamo pushed at Tima with his head to show her that she should push Talon. ‘Oh, my! Push him?’
‘Hey, what’s happening up there?!’ came Aikon’s mumbling voice from below.
‘Talon is afraid to jump!’ Matica shouted down.
‘What? That can’t be! He’s a bird! Push him!’ yelled Aikon.
‘That’s what we’re going to do now! Hang on, he’ll come down soon!’ said Matica.
As Tamo screeched encouragingly, Talon spread his wings over Matica’s and Crayn’s heads then closed his eyes and made strange noises that sounded like a sigh. Was it an expression of fear? Matica thought.
Annoyed, Tamo screeched loudly so that Talon looked up, then Tamo jumped with his wings close to his body. Passing Talon, Matica and Crayn, Tamo spread his wings, flapped them a few times and flew in front of them, almost touching them. They could feel the wind from his huge wings.
Talon ducked in fright. When Tamo passed him again, Talon screeched then looked up at his mum. Just then, she let herself fall the same way as Tamo had and glided past Talon with the same ‘whoof, whoof, whoof’ of her wings. Talon watched her, but he still didn’t move. Instead, he closed his eyes again.
‘Don’t close your eyes, Talon,’ Matica said tearfully and poked him in his side. He opened his eyes again, walked closer to the edge, locked his talons into the slope then looked at Matica.
‘I can’t help you, you frightened big bird, you. I can’t show you, either. I’m not a bird. I have no wings, see? But you’re a bird. You have wings. So jump and fly,’ said Matica.
She pushed at his body, but he wouldn’t move. Next, Tamo flew so close that he touched Talon’s beak with his wingtips. Talon, irritated by that, shook his head wildly and in doing so, he lost his balance. His body weight did the rest. He stumbled and disappeared over the edge, toppling over and over, screeching in horror as he fell.
Shocked, Matica ran to the edge and watched him fall. Tamo and Tima dived after him, screeching in fright.
‘Talon!’ Matica screamed. ‘Spread your wings! You’ll crash!’
She buried her face in Dad’s arm when they heard two cries coming from her mum and Aikon from down below. ‘I can’t look,’ she mumbled.
Crayn looked horrified too. He watched Talon fall for the next nanoseconds then shook Matica. ‘Look!’ he said.
Matica opened her eyes through her fingers and saw that Talon had spread his wings, was flapping them and had flown up a bit higher into the air. She let go of her father and went to the edge. Talon flew just over the heads of her mum and brother. He had made it – just in time.
Thrusting her hands into the air, she clapped. ‘Hurrah, you made it!’
All were cheering and shouting for joy and Talon, screeching, flew past them in a graceful curve without flapping his wings. Matica interpreted what Talon said: ‘That wasn’t too bad. I love it now. I can’t understand why I didn’t want to do it. It’s easy, it’s wonderful, it’s amazing. I can soar with my parents now. I’m a real bird.’
‘He said all that?’ Crayn asked.
Matica nodded and grinned. Talon wouldn’t stop squeaking. They heard Aikon singing from down below, ‘Talon is flying, Talon is flying, Talon is in the air. Talon is a bird.’
‘What a miraculous bird Talon is, I have to admit,’ Crayn said with admiration, then he shook his head, ‘but I still don’t like him. No, he looks odd, you know, half-boiled!’
Talon is Soaring
Matica and her father watched the condors for a moment before beginning their descent back down the mountain. As the condors flew overhead, they often blotted out the sun with two black bodies and one brown one.
Tamo landed on his ridge where he had stood before and encouraged Talon to do the same. After Talon joined him, Tamo let himself fall and Talon followed him without any hesitation.
‘Hey, Dad,’ Matica said, beaming with delight, ‘he passed the test.’
Out of sheer joy and happiness, Talon landed and flew again and again. After the fourth landing, he fell again and picked up a good updraught of wind and spiraled high up into the sky. His parents followed him.
Approaching the bottom of the mountain, Matica lay down on a big, flat stone and watched them flying. She sighed. Mira sat beside her. ‘Matica,’ Mira said after watching her a while, ‘is something wrong? Is something bothering you?’
Matica sat up and pursed her lips. ‘No… yes. Oh, I don’t know. Yes, I guess.’ She wiped her face with her hand. ‘Will Talon come back to me? He has his freedom now. All three have their freedom now. Oh, Mum, will they come back?’
Mira looked at her husband. He just looked back at her in the apprehension and shook his head, then he made a sign to Mira by waving his hand into the air as if to say, ‘Let them go. They should go.’ Instead, Mira said to her daughter, ‘Of course they will, Matica. Wasn’t Tamo always there, even before Talon? They won’t forget you so they won’t leave you. You helped them bring up their chick. Don’t forget their gratitude.’
Aikon saw his father’s expression and gave him a queer look, but said nothing until they started on their long journey home. Aikon put his hand into Matica’s, squeezed it and said, ‘Don’t worry. He’ll come back. He loves you.’
The birds flew in wider circles over the mountain and they could still hear their happy screeching and chattering. Matica often looked back into the sky and silently prayed that all of them would return to her. Suddenly she yelled, ‘Mum, I can’t see them anymore! They’re gone!’ Devastated, she sat down. Mira and Aikon tried to comfort her.
‘All right, then, we may as well finish our sandwiches,’ Mira said. ‘We don’t need to take them home. I’m hungry anyway and I do believe you are too. This is as good a place as any.’ Everybody agreed because from there, they could see if the birds returned.
Matica ate, more interested in searching the skies than in her food.
Written by Gigi Sedlmayer