It is one thing to take flight from the ground. A push-off, a grab of air with your wings, and you’re up. It is another thing entirely to take off from the water. You can get a good running start, but once your body’s airborne you immediately feel the awful gravity of what we land-dwellers call “the real world.” You feel how heavy the sky.

The flying fish takes such a running start at almost 40 mph. It shoots from the water like a bullet and sails like a brief kite. Some of them have pectoral fins shaped like dragonfly wings, some like butterfly wings, but all have curved front edges like those of birds and airplanes. Merely gliding, it can stay airborne for 45 seconds. When it comes down after its initial flight, which may have reached 200 yards in length, it can skate on the surface of the water on the tip of its tail, zigzagging delicately on the waves for another 200 yards.

But rewind the film. Slow its frames, and watch again the miracle of a fish breaking the surface. To an ocean-dweller, the surface is a ceiling on their world. Dolphins and sharks and whales can break its charms, but never for long. The air is a god to fish. It casts light, it takes it away, it brings the moon that brings the plankton and the one that calls them to breed. It imposes its one commandment. So consider the crash from the water as a flying fish crowns, the freight of their tiny bodies realized in orbit. Consider the first flying fish, leaping to escape the primordial dolphin, its papery fins fluttering like sick flames. Its discovery that, by swimming furiously in empty space, it could stay aloft a tiny bit longer. Stay alive.

Some things were not meant to be kept in aquariums. Some things can step outside their natural atmosphere and walk around a while. The ocean’s surface is its only edge to these fish, the great imperial “never.” Yet they break it. And we can, too. We can leave footprints on the roof. If you needed to, wouldn’t you hold your breath, punch through the fabric of daylight and make your escape? We can. We have fists like spaceships. We can turn our world inside out when it matters. We are forced by adversity to fly. We take the long way around, outside the law. We let go of the ocean like a forgiveness. We run leashless beyond our master’s reach. We breach.


About quantumbiologist

Christian Drake, AKA The Quantum Biologist, is a naturalist and poet formerly of Albuquerque, NM and currently living deep in the backwoods of the Connecticut Berkshires. He has worked in aquariums and planetariums, national parks and urban forests. When not birding or turning over rocks to find weird bugs, he enjoys rockabilly music, gourmet cooking, playing harmonica and writing dirty haiku. View all posts by quantumbiologist

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