Soon his vision expanded to completely encompass the edges of The Mountain. He now saw it was framed with hundreds, if not thousands of small lines, intersecting, crashing at odd angles in every direction for miles and miles. He could only vaguely remember the stories of the houses, walls and castles his parents had left behind when they ascended. For a moment he was curious to fly down among them, and put pictures and faces with the tales. The intrigue went out from him with his next breath. He would go east and west, north and south, as high as the Wind would allow. But he would not go down. Not down there.
From here, the Mountain was a joke. His perspective had changed so much from the distance that now he laughed, humbly amused at how small his world had been. He looked just a few miles east and saw a mountain that was much wider, much taller than his own. How had he missed this before? Had he actually missed this before? Or had he seen it and decided it couldn’t be true?
In the distance, circling above the greater mountain, he saw another bird. Gathering his courage, he asked the Wind “Can you take me to that greater mountain, over the valley and away from this mountain? Can you take me to that bird?” The warm consent of the Wind swirled around him like a familiar hug and carried him out over the verdant forest. From this height he watched as the forest descended into the valley, a green canopy overshadowing even the largest walls. He thought he was seeing the trees go down, but soon enough they started climbing up from the valley again.
“It’s disorienting, isn’t it?” Even at a whisper, the voice was terrifying. It was coming from within inches of his ear. His head snapped up to find he was face to face with the bird. This high above the earth, the boundaries that appeared to separate one from another were nearly impossible to follow.
“When did you cross from that mountain to this one?”
“I don’t know.”
“Wonderful isn’t it? The only lines are in our heads. Even if you drew a line in the ground, down to the smallest grain of sand, the Wind would swoop down and erase it. That is His game. His play.”
“But where do you rest?”
“The sky’s only boundaries are the clouds, and they shift and billow and vanish right before your eyes.”
Even as he watched the Sky around him, the boy saw birds pass effortlessly through the white mist and appear on the other side without a struggle, without hesitation, barely aware they had crossed anything more than empty air.
“Once you have seen that, you realize that it’s the same down there. It just takes generations instead hours. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find the place where all the mountains touch. The builders of two walls bring rocks from both mountains. The soldiers in two armies forge weapons from the metals of both lands. And they refresh themselves in the waters of a single river.”
Just then the Wind blew by and the bird laughed the way friends do even when there is no joke.
“The sky has no walls, no boundaries. It will not be controlled and it cannot be predicted. What makes you think it is any different down there?”
“But where do you rest? Where is home?”
“We birds live everywhere but settle nowhere. When we fly down into the green sky and nest in the wooden clouds, we no more claim that land than you have claimed the air in your lungs. Will you catch your breath in your hands and build walls around the Wind?”
While the words still lingered in the space between them, a mighty sound wrenched their eyes toward the expanse above. The boy’s untrained eyes only saw the faintest figure, but the bird smiled, recognizing the screech and contour of an eagle.
“I will never fly that high.” The boy’s wonder was suffocating in his chest. He looked forlornly at the figure and felt a chill from within.
“Why not?” Asked the bird, as much amused as concerned.
“I…” The boy’s lips parted, but his mind delivered no orders to his rogue tongue.
“Which bird is the highest?”
“I don’t know.”
“If in all the world, that eagle were the highest you saw, how long would she be the highest?”
“Only for a moment.”
“Maybe. Or maybe never. Maybe right now on the other side of a cloud, another bird is looking down at her. But who cares? Half of flying is falling. At any moment you can be the lowest bird or the highest, falling or flying, and be the exact opposite the next moment. As soon as you know, you must forget and relearn.”
The bird paused and motioned downward with her beak. Below them, the mountains sank into the vastness of themselves. The boy looked down his leg and covered his old mountain with his foot. So gently he had not noticed, the Wind had lifted him into greater heights than he had ever been able to imagine. To his right, the eagle looked at him, peered into him, then dove fearlessly into the sea of blue and white.