Inspiration for the photograph, Birdsong

Inspiration for the photograph Birdsong explores my fascination and deepest gratitude for the birds who taught me how to fly.

I had started taking flying lessons. Taking off from the airport in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the old plane rattled and shook and the obstacles were frightening. I was supposed to nose the plane toward the ground to gather wind for lift off, but all I could see were the row of trees at the end of the runway racing toward me like lightning. My hands froze. I held my breath. Just before reaching the trees, I jerked the plane into the air losing all air power and my instructor had to grab the controls.

I made the same mistake every time. My instructor finally insisted that I sit in an open field and do nothing but watch how birds land and take off from the ground. I sat in a grassy field for days, mesmerized by the birds—birds everywhere leaping into the air like dancers, as if they were playing with the wind. Nothing seemed sufficient to express my awe for these tiny creatures who could just let go and soar over the earth.

At my next flying lesson I had no thought of throttles or flaps or trees at the end of the runway. I was just there, playing with the wind, as it lifted my arms in its gust and soared my body into the clouds.