What starts as the tale of a listless man, growing up with dreams of flight and adventure and creativity, transforms into a story of a desperate attempt to save a part of Mother Nature herself.
Lishman was always filled with a vagabond spirit and a wish for wings that worked, even at a young age. Growing up on a farm in rural Ontario, his wanderlust kept him constantly trying to become a pilot, but various difficulties scuttled that dream. Many years of floating from job to job and locale to locale followed, even after he met and married his wife and started a family. By this point he was becoming a well known, occasionally impoverished, sculpture artist of some reputation. And along the way, the dream of flying still lived on, mostly sated by using hang gliders and ultralights.
As the time trailed on to the eighties, Lishman found out about a local man who had trained Geese to fly behind his boat. Seeking to replicate this, but with a plane, they set about this new goal. Over many years and many attempts, the project rolled on with mixed results. Lishman had to get the birds to imprint on him right from the time they are hatched, then get them used to the plane, then the sound and motion of the engines. Much patience was needed along the way here, with some setbacks seeming to be impossible to conquer.
The end goal was to use this as homework for a larger cause. Geese are not an endangered species, but the Crane is. Part of this is because Cranes had for some reason ceased to migrate, even if their own survival was at stake. Even with differences between these birds, they hoped the experiences with the Geese could be used to teach the Cranes to migrate, all by following an ultralight airplane.
This low point makes Lishman and crew regroup and rethink. They move back to only using Geese for the first go round, just to prove to that it can be done. With a herculean amount of planning and logistics, they manage to launch and go on their epic journey.
Some days are relatively easy, others become nail-biters, and all for this valuable mission. So many wonderful people help them out along the way, it is truly inspirational. And when they land with the Geese at the appointed location, a sense of relief and happiness floods your senses.
With the successful completion of the first trip now under their belt, they expand for another jaunt for the next year. The flock is increased and the scale antes up as well. All to show how this can be applied to Cranes. When this adventure, with the destination even further south, also ends successfully, Lishman and company are justifiably happy.
This aspect of Lishman does not surprise me. At the end of the book, he philosophizes and rhapsodizes his theories as to how and why birds migrate. Entering into an abundance of thoughts and ideas, Lishman provides a simple solution, that God is involved.
This coda is echoed by the afterword, wherein fellow bird aficionado Tom Horton goes into a very indepth examination of the history of migration and provides multiple scientific explanations as to why they do this.
In so many ways, this dual ending reinforces the reasons why this book is so important.
One path is the valuable mission to help save endangered species and understand how nature works in all it glory.
The second path is that we have always wanted to be a part of what the birds can do oh so easily.
To fly. To soar. To be in the sky. To experience this ultimate freedom.
That would be lovely.
…is currently reading How To Talk Dirty And Influence People by Lenny Bruce.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
Pilot John Gillespie Magee Jr
RCAF, 412 Squadron
Died December 11th, 1941