The crane’s last wound had almost healed now. It left a long scar on her belly. Now she was ready to fly and make an attempt one more time. Like she had done over a hundred times now.
She was an obstinate bird who had refused to give up on her flight despite consistent failures. Her body was covered in scars and wounds. She’d hit the mountains far too many times, her wings were tattered by going against storms and turbulence again and again. Her body had weakened for there is hardly any food in the frozen mountains. She was a water bird that used to eat fishes, now she could get only insects, seeds, acorns and sometimes rats, if she’s really lucky.
It’d been 6 months since she was separated from her flock. She remembered that day clearly: It was her first migration. She was hungry and tired from flying nonstop for days. The cold of Himalayas was unbearable. It was sickening. She was falling behind her flock and it seemed she’d either turn around, hunted by birds of prey or simply fall down of pure exhaustion.
And then she caught a glimpse. She had seen nothing so magnificent, ravishing, otherworldly. She felt the mere sight had cleansed her tardiness.
She’d never seen anything so tall. The mountain peak seemed to go beyond the heavens. Covered in snow it glowed like a blinding silver pillar or was it golden, under sunlight?
All the birds in the flock took a steep turn and avoided that mountain, which was engulfed in a storm. But she continued, as if mesmerized by its mortifying beauty. She flew straight towards the mountain, hoping to fly over it. She couldn’t even reach half of its height nor anywhere near it. The storm stopped her midway, she couldn’t fly one inch forward and then once she lost her endurance to keep flapping her wings, she was thrown straight to her death or so the flock thought, who’d finally sped up and continued their journey.
She fell straight through a pine tree, onto the ground which was luckily covered with fresh, thick snow. She’d survived with a broken wing and numerous thorns on her body. She somehow managed to drag herself to a crevice. Surviving on moss, fern, leaves, twigs and on some lucky days: buried insects. Once healed, she moved to low altitude, not-so-cold mountains. There she found a cave, probably abandoned by some other animal. She had found warmer caves, but she chose this because from its edge she could take a peek at the peak of that mountain., She’d decided that she’s going to fly over it, no matter what. She spent weeks collecting twigs and dried grass to make the cave warmer as well as collecting and storing some food . So she could spend her days focusing on improving her flight than hunting for food. This was her new home for the foreseeable future as she continued to practice.
She’d begun with low flights, learning how to take steep turns, conditioning her body for cold wind and regulating her speed. When going at higher altitudes, she slowly grew accustomed to low oxygen but faired poorly against the turbulence and stormy winds, which she could never get through. She’d return to her cave with new wounds.
It’d been months since she’d seen anyone of her kind. Yet she could see the mountain from her cave. She shared her loneliness with it, her companion in solitude. Whenever she felt lonely, she’d steal a glimpse of the peak and would feel better.
Each time going out of the cave took great courage. The winds were precarious and flying over Himalayas, even the lowest mountains is perilous. The height is too great, the temperature too cold and the winds too strong. The turbulence and storms stand like an invisible barrier, sometimes even over the mountains – as if the mountains weren’t high enough! She’d wait for weeks for good weather to practice.
But good weather was rare. Frequent hail and snowing had made her feathers coarse and brittle. She’d lose lot of feathers in her flights against strong winds. This made flying even more challenging. The cold was often overwhelming and no matter how much dried grass she’d cover herself with, she still shivered. Sunlight reflected from snow covered mountains were blinding and her eyesight had weakened over time. There was lack of oxygen at such heights and she’d try to breathe in as much chilly air as she could, feeling the sting inside-out.
But she’d look at the frozen mountain and strangely, it’d warm her heart. Under sunlight the snow glistened on the mountain, it felt like a golden river was flowing down. It was the most gorgeous sight she’d ever seen. She wanted to come close to it, to fly over it, to touch it, even once, even if it meant death…
She’d made the attempts too many times, always aiming for the peak. But Everest is no joke, as she realized after dozens and dozens of flights and falls. But she always made the attempt one more time. Her mind was occupied monomaniacally to cross over the mountain that challenged her spirit.
After weeks of waiting, she found the weather was comparatively clearer. She left her cave and began her flight. She was still miles from the mountain and harsh winds broke her ascent. Her flight was no longer smooth, there was a hailstorm ahead, she’d to turn back. Else one hit and she could be dead. Dejected, she began her descent.
As if the storm wasn’t enough, on her way back, she saw a shadow passing over her. She turned upside down and saw him: his wings were large and broad, they seemed to cover the sun. She’d seen eagles attacking birds earlier, but to see an eagle up close was daunting. She dived down, she’d to get to her cave. Its opening was not large enough for the eagle to enter but the cave was deep enough for her to stay out of reach. Then she saw her imminent death: there was another eagle beneath her. Himalayan eagles hunted in pairs. Perhaps their nest was close by or may be it was miles away. It didn’t matter. Neither height nor distance is a big hurdle for an eagle.
The eagle hovering above her took a deep dive. Bolting down like a spear sent from hell. His wings cutting through the wind, like a bullet aimed straight at her. He was getting closer and closer to her. His flight was so majestic, so intense yet so graceful; for a second she forgot she is his prey. He was almost at her height now. She tried to fly rapidly up and down, in waves – quickly changing her altitude and taking sharp turns but he followed the exact course, locked onto her like a torpedo. She could hear his wings fluttering. Too close, too close, she thought. She was completely exhausted, she could no longer continue. She felt the talons on her back, her feathers torn, blood spurted. It was painful. The claws grasped around her neck and the eagle flew up. She writhed in pain. He was flying up, going for his nest. He carried her as if she was weightless. His strength was terrifying.
As they emerged from the shadow of a small mountain, she saw it: Everest covered in sunlight. She still hadn’t flown over it, not even touched it! She couldn’t die here. She must escape. She had to try. She curled herself into a ball. Her wings inflated like a parachute, resisting the wind. Everything about eagles was aerodynamic. Having a parachute like resistance suddenly slowed the flight. Startling and greatly taxing the eagle. His grip loosened. The exerting eagle due to his insane momentum flew straight ahead like a missile, while she fell down like a stone. She’d evaded the first eagle. He was too far to follow and must have hoped her mate below would make the kill.
She opened her wings to stop the fall, trying to glide towards the mountains. She could see the female eagle below her, who was laser focused on her, following her every move. Was this the end? The mountain image was fresh in her head, she decided to give it her all. In her dozens of unsuccessful attempts, she had learned a lot about diving and falling. When you fall from 23000 feet, you are freely falling in gravity and can do lot of risky acrobatics in air before you’re endangered by gravity. She slanted her legs backwards, stretched her neck outward and began spinning herself forward. Thanks to her sharp beak and her serrated claws, she struck the eagle like a shuriken. Her beaks and claws dug through the eagles body, tearing its head apart.
The hunter was hunted. The crane had never enjoyed such a nourishing meal. Snow is a great preserver and the meat lasted almost a month for her.
This encounter taught her a lot. She realized she needs to build strength. She must nourish her body. She also needs to understand and feel the wind flow better and utilize it as much as she can. She could learn a lot from the way eagles flew. She was still in awe of the dive, the strength, the effortless fly and the focus of the eagles. They were master aviators, truly apex predator of the skies. And that was because of the way they utilized the wind to fly and their bodies.
Sadly a crane’s body is not that aerodynamic friendly. Their bodies are more suited for warmer climate near the water bodies, closer to the ground. So she’d to make the best of what she had. She spent almost three months strengthening herself and learning to fly like an eagle. She was ready for the final flight.
Everest was enveloped in a thick, blinding hailstorm. As if the storm was its guardian that must be dueled, a trial that must be triumphed. She wasn’t strong enough to soar to its peak in this tornado. So she decided to use the storm to her advantage; same storm that had nearly killed her numerous times. The main obstacle was getting inside the hailstorm. The outer winds are strong and impenetrable and random flying and falling ice rocks could kill her.
Wind and snow can be thick, but she was a water bird. She would regularly jump in an opposing current to catch fish. She could dive through the hailstorm, she just had to get through the outermost turbulence layer.
Remembering the eagle’s dive and how she herself would jump in streams, once she got close to the hailstorm she closed her wings, straightened her body and used her momentum to get through the turbulence, penetrating it like a drill. Now she was inside the storm, but in the opposite direction of the wind. She could barely last a second. She instantly turned completely around to align with the wind direction and opened her wings slightly. She was riding the storm wind. She slanted herself slightly vertically and the wind was taking her up. Balls of snow and garbage left by human mountaineers was flying randomly throughout. She’d to dodge continuously. One hit and she’d lose control over flight and would be killed. Hailstones even larger than her were floating randomly. Her eyes had teared up due to piercing cold wind and the moisture was frozen and crystallized. She was essentially blind in the blizzard. She folded her neck and used her wings to break the ice on her eyes. But this ruined her control, she got strayed in the wind. A sharp ice stone pierced her still crystalized left eye. Her white head became red with the blood, which instantly froze. She couldn’t possibly fly with a blinded eye. She was going to fall to her death at the footsteps of Everest. With her one good eye she could see the summit, after all she was flying over its base. She’d never been so close. Oh this damn mountain! What all she’s already gone through for it?! The mountain glittered in the sunshine, this time it didn’t feel heartwarming. This time the bird found it annoying as if the mountain was mockingly, triumphantly smiling on his invincibility. There’s no way in hell this piece of tall rock would stop her now.
She inflated her wings to increase the drag and cease the fall. Then facing upwards, she aligned herself to the direction of the wind. Gliding was not going to cut it. She used all her strength, beating her wings to raise her height. She had never flew so fast, rising hundreds of meters in mere moments but to her it felt like eternity. She was sapped of her strength, her vitality and maybe even her hope. As if fortune smiled on her, soon enough she saw the peak. Within moments she was close to it and then at same height. Then finally flying over it.
She took a sharp dive and her feet touched the peak. She landed there. She felt rapture. Hundreds of fall, dozens of wounds, hungry nights, no air to breathe, unbearable cold and even losing an eye – all was worth it. She felt a strange warmth over one of the coldest places on the planet.
But it didn’t last. The mountain was unforgivable. Its guardian storm had intensified, as if unable to digest that its impregnable walls of hailstorms were breached by a mere bird. So it gathered all its forces to bury it right there and remove all evidence it happened. She couldn’t stay there for too long or she’d be frozen dead. She ran over the peak and jumped, in descent she’d to just cut through the wind and then ride it like an eagle. She was out of the storm. She looked back one last time. That glorious golden mountain. Their affair was now over. She faced forward never to look back.
After some hours time, over the horizon she could see the greenery. Warm weather, big fishes, soothing baths and green surroundings, oh how much she’d missed it!
She was the first bird to migrate this year, a month before any bird. She was also the first bird foolish enough to migrate over Himalayas at peak winter through raging storms. First to migrate solo, without even one companion. And of course, the first bird to ever fly over Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. But she was blissfully unaware of it as she lay into warm water after munching on belly full of fishes.
The humans called Everest “The mountain no bird can fly over”, they had no idea.
It was outworldly, that in an icy wasteland a bird could find warmth in a frozen mountain. And she could share her loneliness with it.
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