He was feeling downcast while on the brink of the greatest change his kind could know. His second life beckoned, but he didn’t feel a joyful anticipation, but a rather wretched apprehension. He was going to miss his patch of lily-pad and milfoil. That was surely part of it. Sadness at leaving home. But he had also made the mistake of listening to the fish. Why did he listen to the damn fish? They were simple creatures; somewhat opportunistic, but they rarely lied. They weren’t bright enough to be capable of such guile. Was he really going to die as they predicted? They repeated the words as they swam by, like a little mantra. Were they trying to keep off kilter, in the hope of a quick meal? He knew they would devour him if given the chance. He was proud that he had never given them that chance. In fact, he had successfully hunted them when they were very young, so perhaps this was payback? It certainly had sowed doubt.
They said he would climb out of the water, change, and that ‘air fish’ would get him. It was their term for anything living above the water. The map turtle, a species of the both air and water, and hence more worldly, set the record straight, asserting that it was indeed his fate to climb out and that sometimes the birds ate his kind. Shrugging, she stated vapidly that there were no guarantees in life. Whatever happened, he was leaving. It didn’t improve his mood.
Perhaps his melancholy was symptomatic of the changes begin wrought? His body was in the midst of a profound re-organization, albeit internal for the moment; to enable a new life in the air. He had heard the old adage that is was important to live your life like it was your second chance. His kind, unlike most, truly got to live a second life, beyond the water. He was preparing for it even now. He felt it deep inside. Of course, he was only at this penultimate stage because he was the consummate survivor. He had successfully weathered all the trials and tribulations over the past few year.
The change had come over him gradually. He noticed that he was more adventurous of late, increasing his patrol area, his hunting grounds. This was novel behaviour. Heretofore he had been fairly circumscribed in his patrols, conservative in his hunting. He had played it safe. He now realized that his explorations had driven him towards shore, to climb nearer to the air beyond. He was moving away from familiar surroundings. As this movement away became easier, the easier the movement became. A self-perpetuating scenario. Yet even his wanderings over the previous days paled in comparison to today’s drive to go beyond the water. It overrode his need to eat. He even bypassed a small insect he would usually snack on. This must be it, he thought. It is my time to leave and realize my destiny!
It was the middle of the night and the new moon cast no light upon the waters. It was time. Climbing down off the milfoil, he followed the upward slope of the muddy lake bottom. He reached the sweet gale which grew along the very edge, a plant species bridging the divide between water and land, an apt metaphor for his own species’ modes of existence. He knew this was to be his last moult. He came to the edge of the water. He was still partially submerged.
‘Goodbye’, he whispered to no one in particular, turning briefly to view is watery home. He continued up and out touching dry ground for the first time. Dirt clung to his many feet. Movement was so much easier in the air. So different from the water! He kept climbing. The breathing was also different. There was so much oxygen! He felt energized.
The sudden call of a distant bird paralyzed him momentarily. He had never heard an owl, at least not like this. Sound in air carried very differently than it had in the water. To be safe, his pace slowed towards the stem of the large wood structure: a tree. He had experienced its shadow in the water over the year, now he was thrilled to know he was to climb it. There was no point in advertising his presence unduly or giving the ‘air fish’ an excuse, so he climbed slowly, ponderously. He could feel his skin beginning to crack. It chafed and squeezed his new delicate organs lying below. He needed to split it open. Was it safe here, protected enough? He paused momentarily. He peered around. The leaves of the underbrush protected him, and yet he was high enough to be away from the ground. Instinct said this was the place. He arched his back, splitting his skin and he began slowly, methodically pulling himself up and out of his last casing.
The changes that had taken place were substantial. His body had been thoroughly re-organized. The process was almost complete. His paired wings were out — straight and true. They could not be folded. He fluttered them. As his skin slowly puffed, dried, hardened, and darkened to better match his surroundings, a singular thought came to dominate once again: hunger. He needed to eat. He needed to hunt. He moved his wings again. They fluttered in unison. He rose off the bark and flew forward a few centimeters. He landed. Patience, he thought, patience and practice. He would need both to survive in air. He would be ready soon. It was now very early in the morning. Inspecting his former self, his empty exoskeleton, he breathed deeply. He was bigger now, longer and wider, stronger, and winged. He had left the waters and his melancholy behind. Life was full of possibility.
Contemplating the still waters of the lake, he raised his gaze to greet the rising of the sun.