little birdie rides.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't in love with birds.  Their varied plumage, the trilling melodies and seemingly effortless flight have forever fascinated me.

To my delight, both of my children are equally captivated.

Lily, like it or not, spent a good many of her earliest days riding on my back as I traipsed along wooded paths and stomped through creeks.  I can still recall vividly the first time her arm reached over my shoulder as her tiny finger pointed out an Eastern Bluebird that I'd have missed without her spotting it.  Her little eyes shined in wonder and I suspect mine did too.

A couple of weeks ago at Long's Park, Piper and Lily were mimicking a pair of mallards when they noticed some of the downy feathers left floating on the surface of the pond in the wake of the ducks.  They spent a good half hour on their knees at the miniature pier watching the "fluffy boats" vanishing beneath the planks before reemerging bobbingly moments later.

I could've watched for hours.

That same afternoon, I glanced up from the lower level of one of the wooden playground structures to find both girls peeking down at me from above.  Lil determined immediately that I was a hungry baby bird and announced that she and Pipe had returned to the nest to feed me juicy grubs.

With collected sticks and hand-picked fabrics sewn into perching songbirds, Lindsay built a delightful mobile that has hung above Piper's crib since the day she first arrived home from the hospital.  Not surprisingly, "bird" was one of her first decipherable words.

Each night after I've turned out the lights but before I've closed her bedroom door, Lily sleepily demands to know what I plan to dream about that night.  Sometimes she'll skip past my response to tell me of her expected visions.  Tonight she informed me that she was going to dream of being small enough to take "little birdie rides" on the backs of the sparrows that come to our feeders.  I find this idea so much more thrilling than my own less creative childhood daydreams of simply being able to fly.

Even after 36+ years of those daydreams, I've not managed to take wing myself but have settled for birdie rides of my own on commercial planes.  I seemed to enjoy those flights a lot more before they resulted in me being far from my wife and children.  Lily has told me before that when she looks up and sees "airplane tracks" while I am away, she wonders if they lead to wherever it is I've been transported.  That concept makes me smile but also makes me a little sad, imagining those tracks thinning, fading and all too soon blending in with the other clouds in the sky, a dead-end trail.

I look forward to boarding planes again in coming months to run trails framed by landscapes more sprawling and at higher elevations than Pennsylvania offers, but I do not look forward to more short term goodbyes.

When I'm gone it's hard not to think about hopping the next available birdie back home to more playground adventures, enthusiastic backyard chases, and the stories and songs that precede bedtime.

Last night at a minor league baseball stadium, I watched Lily and Piper giggling laps up and down the bleachers, screaming "charge" at the loudspeaker's prompting and gasping wide-eyed at the post game fireworks.

At times like those, I wouldn't want for wings to take me anywhere.

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