Obli and the Crow

Obli and the Crow

Obli, my spiritual grandfather, taught me how to hear, a bud opening to reveal a flower, the bear turning over in slumber, a falling leaf. And then he taught me to see, stars above the blue sky, wind parted by a formation of geese, blood pumping through the redwood tree.

Obli told me that once I was able to hear and see, he would teach me how to fly. My first time, I looked down to see that I was still on the ground. Obli laughed and told me not to worry. Flying takes imagination.

Imagine, do not think, he said. I closed my eyes dead tight until everything was black. I tried to imagine. Everything. My mind drifted back to earth. I couldn’t imagine leaving.

How do I imagine something I don’t believe I am capable of doing? I asked.

Why do you believe you are incapable of flying? he said. Preposterous.

Is it? Maybe my desire to fly is preposterous?

Then don’t fly, it is the same to me, he said.

But I want to fly.

Then fly.

I tried to imagine flying high above the earth in the ethereal colors of sky looking down upon the heavy colors of earth. Green and brown and orange and red. I looked down at my feet firmly planted on the ground.

It is no use, I said. I am here. In my mind, I am flying, but when I open my eyes, I am still here, standing beside you.

Even birds, whose nature it is to fly, often fall to earth when they first try to fly. But they try again. And, if they are not too badly damaged, they try again and again until they fly. If you want to give up, this is fine by me. If you want to fly, however, you must never give up.

You have been taught from an early age that you can’t fly, Obli tells me. When you first climbed to the roof of your house, your mother told you to get down from there, you will fall and break your arm – or your neck. You aren’t a bird, get down from there. And you peered over the edge of the roof and believed she knew better than you did, so you climbed down. You were told you couldn’t fly and you believed it.

What would have happened if you hadn’t climbed down? Obli asks. What if that first time you climbed to the roof of your house you had jumped? Maybe you’d have fallen. Maybe though you’d have flown. You’ll never know because you believed you couldn’t fly. Now I am asking you to put that notion behind you and believe that you can fly. It is in your grasp.

I closed my eyes dead tight again and thought what a thrill it would be to fly, to leave the encumbrances of earth behind, to soar high above everything. To be like Brother Eagle and Sister Hawk. I felt the separation, a small bird, a plain wren, flapping furiously, I lifted only a step off the ground. But a step is something. Did I fly? I asked Obli.

What do you think? he said. Did you feel distance? Did you feel free from the weight of the world? What do you think?

I think I moved, I think I was flying.

Then what more do you need?

To fly higher, to fly with my eyes wide open. To defy gravity.

Obli sat on a large rock watching me intently. Come here, he said. I went to him. Climb up here. He moved over to make room for me on the rock. Now you are off the ground, and this gives you an advantage. From here, it will be easier to imagine that you can fly.

I was perhaps six feet off the ground, and it did seem to me that I had an advantage. It wasn’t the same advantage I’d have if I were on a rooftop, but I was off the ground. The rock was on the edge of a meadow and behind us was a forest of pine trees. When I closed my eyes, I heard the whistle of wind through the eagle’s wings as it soared high overhead, his grace and beauty boundless. How I desired to join him.

Closing my eyes dead tight, I felt the updraft, I felt the uplift of wind and weightlessness. When I felt most relaxed, I jumped but crashed to the ground. I turned over to look back at Obli, smiling back at me. You were close, he said. I looked at him in amazement. Close? I asked. I crashed to the ground. But you flew briefly, he said.

I stood and brushed the dirt from my clothes. Try again, he said. And I did. Again and again, each time falling to the ground in a heap. I looked up at Obli smiling down at me. How many times do I need to fall to earth before you admit that I can’t fly? I asked.

Do you want to fly? he asked.

Yes, that is why I continue to climb onto the rock and jump.

No, that isn’t what I asked, he said. Do you want to fly? Or do you just want to pretend?

I thought about this. I did want to fly. If I wanted to pretend, I would pretend to be a king who ruled over a vast and wealthy country. Whatever I said would be law and the people of the country would adore me and feel honored to pay me tribute.

I climbed back upon the rock, jumped, and once more fell to earth. I stood up and dusted off my pants, squinting into the bright sunlight. Obli studied me quietly. You seem to have fallen into a rut that you can’t find your way out of, he said.

He looked over his shoulder at the thick forest of pine trees. Maybe you should climb a tree, he said. This is where birds begin.

I looked at him, then at the forest. Maybe he was right. The rock wasn’t working. I walked over to a tall pine tree, its branches reaching up as high as I could see. The lowest limb was perhaps ten feet off the ground, out of my reach. I looked back at Obli. He was sitting on the rock looking up to the highest sprig at the top of the tall pine tree. There is where you will learn to fly, he told me. Up there.

I stepped away from the tree so that I could take in the full height of the tree. At over two hundred feet, it was the tallest tree in the forest. Up there, I asked, my neck bent back as far as it would go.

Yes, up there. If you want to fly, he said.

If I jump from there and don’t fly, I will kill myself.

That is a possibility, Obli said. For everything we do, there is a consequence, sometimes good, sometimes bad. When we want something bad enough, we must be willing to take whatever risks that stand in our way of accomplishing our purpose. If we aren’t willing to accept the risks, then we are not committed to our purpose.

I walked back to the base of the tree and looked back at Obli. Maybe I should begin there, I said, pointing at the lowest hanging limb.

Obli tilted his head, smiled, then nodded. If that is where you want to begin, then that is where you shall begin.

I will need a boost, I said.

Obli slid off his rock and walked over to the tree. I stepped up into his interlocked fingers and he hoisted me up to where I could grab hold of the limb. As I pulled myself up, he pushed from below, until I was sitting on the limb. I looked down. The distance seemed much further when looking down than when looking up from the ground. I held onto the trunk of the tree as I stood up, easing away from the trunk. As I moved away from the trunk of the tree, I grasped the limb above my head to steady myself, moving slowly out toward the end of the limb. I looked down at Obli who seemed so far away. I closed my eyes dead tight and took a deep breath and without opening my eyes, hoping with all my heart to fly, I jumped from the limb. I fell to the ground. Disappointed, I looked up at Obli.

You flew for a second, he said.

I did? I asked.

Yes, didn’t you feel the exhilaration?

I thought for a minute, realizing that I did feel something in the pit of my stomach. I must have been flying. Now that I had learned to fly, I needed to practice staying aloft. I stood up and asked Obli to give me another boost, and up into the tree I went, climbing higher and higher. Obli watched from below. I climbed up through the limbs with high spirits, believing that this time when I jumped I would fly farther. I had figured out what it took to fly. More distance between me and the ground. Birds can hop and jump and take wing from the ground, but usually, they fly from the tops of trees, and when they land, they land in the tops of trees. That is where they feel the most comfort and joy. From above, the world is simpler.

When I got half-way up the tree, I looked down, butterfly wings throbbing in my stomach. A sense of rapture overcame me. I felt both scared and bold at the same time, as I continued to climb. The highest limbs would give me the best chance to fly.

Slowly I moved up through the tree limbs until I reached the last limb that would support me. Crouching in the narrow space between the limb I was on and the smaller limb touching my head, I eased out to where I could see the tops of the other trees in the forest. Obli looked so small down below. The tree swayed in the sweep of wind and the exhilaration of flight raged inside of me.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes dead tight. Balancing on the tremulous limb, I let go of the limb above me. Time raced by, the treetop whipped by the stiff breeze. Trying to steady my frenzied nerves, I told myself that once I took flight, I would be free from the disturbance of wind and gravity. Defying gravity takes a giant leap of faith. Do birds ask themselves if they are ready to fly? I didn’t think so. They just fly. Flying to them was as natural as seeing the sunrise in the morning. As natural as seeing the moon move through its phases across the night sky.

I jumped. With my eyes dead tight, I felt the rush of nothingness beneath me. The ground winds swirled up to lift me higher. And I heard sounds I’d never heard before. The resonance of empty space. A rush of joy and fear and memories.  Like all the birds who have flown before me, I never wanted to land.

Before I opened my eyes, I felt limbs tearing at my clothes. In one broad sweep of wings, I shot upward, where the silence of clouds rushed by me. Below me, I saw a crow, a magnificent creature who controlled the sky. I dipped to fly beside him, but his broad wings swept him higher. I wanted to fly higher, but I couldn’t keep up with him. His strength was impressive, and I knew then that he’d been at this a long time. Yet I wanted to match his strength and beauty.

I fell behind as he flew toward the sun. I feared that he’d fly too close and would be incinerated in an intense ball of flames and fall a thousand, thousand miles to earth. I wanted to warn him. But I was just a beginner, what did I know? I leveled off, giving up my frantic attempt to catch up to him, letting myself be carried along by the sweep of wind.

The crow was gone, but the sun called to me, its brilliant glow hovering on the horizon. I wondered if I kept flying toward the sun if it would linger there, spreading its brilliance over the land, resisting darkness. Flapping my wings with all my might, I flew ahead, and the sun remained there, on the edge of everything. And then I wondered if I flew fast enough, could I overtake the sun, passing underneath it so that the intense rays of sunlight were no longer blinding my eyes but warming my back? I flew with a renewed urgency.

As the sun’s rays became more and more intense, I worried that, like Icarus, if I flew too close to the sun, the intense heat would melt my wings and I would fall to earth. An image came to me, a young boy sitting at his desk, an open book in front of him, looking up as a gentle breeze stirred the curtains in front of the solitary window. The boy moved to the window, pulled the curtains aside, and peered out through the tree limbs into moonlight.

After several minutes, he looked back at the book open on the desktop of the small desk in the corner of the room. The story told of a young boy who, having awoken from a dream, found himself in a faraway land inhabited by monsters and demons. While asleep, the young boy had been summoned by a beautiful princess, having heard of his unequaled courage, to come to the rescue of the besieged castle. Thoughts of his own safety never entered his mind.

A fire breathing dragon of extraordinary size and strength threatened the heavy walls of the castle. Princess Sophia paced inside her bedroom, wringing her hands in worry. The Knights had taken up their posts inside the heavy wooden gate of the castle, but their courage wavered in the face of the fierce dragon, fearing the end was near. Things seemed hopeless. How could the courage of a solitary boy, straight out of a dream, rescue the castle?

The boy turned back to the window, staring out at the brilliant moonlight. The story was a tale, but even so, it told its truth. Courage is not measured by results but by the willingness to act. The young boy had leaped out of his dream because he wanted to help. He most likely would fail, but he was going to give everything he had in his efforts to help the princess. This is the measure of courage. Against all odds, one is willing to give his own life.

The young boy, standing in front of the solitary window bathed in moonlight, hoped to take heart in this tale. He was a loner, far from home, picked on by the other boys in school. They called him a freak because he was small and quiet, never joining in the roguery of the other boys. He thought them childish. But more than that, acts of malevolence appalled him.

In class earlier in the day, Mr. Thornbottom had asked the boy what he had taken away from the story of bravery and courage? The boy stood by his desk, looking down at his feet, shifting nervously, fearful of the ridicule that would rain down on him from the other boys in the class.

“Well, sir, I believe that death is not such a difficult thing, nothing that one should fear,” the boy said.

“You think this is a story about death and not courage?” Mr. Thornbottom asked.

“I believe death is the beginning of beauty,” the boy said.

The silence in the classroom was heavy. What did this mean? Death is the beginning of beauty? Mr. Thornbottom leaned against his desk, tapping the eraser end of a pencil against his lips. He straightened up, removed his glasses, and wiped them with his handkerchief. He seemed deep in thought. Clearly, in his mind, this story was about allowing oneself the freedom to chase after one’s dreams. The boy in the story faces down his fears, defending the castle and the beautiful princess against the fiery rage of the dragon, not from sheer strength, but rather from courage and desire. There is power in dreams.

“Don’t you believe the boy acted with courage, that he was willing to die in the name of honor?” Mr. Thornbottom asked. “And don’t you believe in the message the story conveyed of the miracle that can be found when one is willing to follow one’s dreams?”

The boy looked around the classroom, wanting to hide, trying to find some courage of his own. “I’m not sure, sir,” he began. “Dreams can be good, yes, but dreams only distract us from the reality of death. We must find beauty in death. It is the one and only true thing in our lives, the only time we will ever get to be truly ourselves. Everything else is an illusion, a whiff of a dream.”

“Hmm…,” Mr. Thornbottom said, walking around his desk and sitting down. He was stalling for time. “Your interpretation is very interesting, but I am afraid you missed the meaning of the story. It really isn’t a story about death at all. Even the dragon, while thwarted, survives. No one dies. Your fascination with death is alarming, I must say.”

The young boy stood alone, feeling naked. How could he get them to understand? What did any of them know about death? Their dreams were filled with fanciful notions of castles and firebreathing dragons and beautiful princesses waiting to be saved. How could any story or dream not hold the truth of death? And if one couldn’t see the beauty in death, he was lost.


Flying toward the sun, I saw the young boy sitting at his desk, flipping through the pages of the book in front of him. There was no reason for him to read it again. He would sit there at his desk, waiting for the sun to come up the next morning, hoping that, when it did, he would be somewhere else. The thought of going back to that classroom terrorized his sleep. He stood up and walked back to the window. High up in the dark branches of the tall pine tree, he spied a silhouette of a crow. Its shadowy presence called to him. One day, he promised himself, he would learn how to fly.

  1. David,
    An attempt at a personal review – comments on
    ~Obli and the Crow~
    After several readings of this story, I would first like to say that your writing is brilliant…so full of multi-layered heart and sorrow and sadness; symbolism and hidden connections to profound visions of the beauty hidden within life, as well as the sublime beauty of flying within the complete forgetfulness that can be found in death.
    In fact, you state that death is the beginning of beauty…a statement to be deeply pondered!
    The intricate teachings of Obli, found through seeing beyond the immediate, and hearing within the silence of the silent – up to and through the death gripping, heart ripping pain of staring into Obli(vion) and jumping – flying free – is somewhat semi-bitter wisdom medicine found through this seeing and hearing with the heart.
    After swallowing this wisdom medicine, will the protagonist survive the harrowing jump? He feels the tearing of branches and tree limbs as he is lifted out of his body and flys free toward the bright Light of the sun. It seems to be a physical reality rather than a meditative dream of dying to the ego and flying into the beauty of living through the spirit of Love Itself!
    Oblivion, however, doesn’t care either way…
    And then, if the protagonist isn’t too damaged from falling physically (or through alcohol or other mind altering drugs) will he try again like the birds whose nature it is to fly? Apparently he will…
    His feet are grounded by gravity, and his heart is grounded by the Heavy “fall” colors of earth – green and brown, orange and red as autumn draws back the sun. Or is the orange and red of the glaringly hot fire that we walk through here in order to fly free? Have some of us already dealt with too many seasons of fire? Not this young man.
    It is autumn again and winter approaches…and his heart is urging him to try…and try again…
    But just as the feet of trees are grounded, yet reach to the sky, the protagonist is grounded in the gravity of a human body, yet urged on by Obli, to climb higher and higher until, if he doesn’t fly, he will be killed! Of which he is fully aware.
    So first moving upward off the ground, he tries the 6ft high rock…a very large vertical stone (perhaps a tomb stone?)as in the Christ story. I prayed it it would be better to climb 6 ft high, jump, and survive the short flight than be buried 6 ft under! So this is the beginner’s journey…
    The stone stands tall at the edge of the meadow where the wildflowers grow, next to the strong and stubborn pine trees that fight for survival – ever green, immortal and wise and full of peace giving love and hope! Useful in boat building…perhaps to safely cross the river Styx – where monsters and demons guard the entrance to the gentle waters of forgetfulness!
    The un-named knows he can fly in his mind, but when we open our closed Dead tight eyes, we are still standing next to obli(vion).
    He learns from Obli, our ancient spirit grandfather, that we all hold death within our grasp as it is a integrated part of our very lives. After all, every moment spirals into death and renewal with each breath we are given since our birth.
    So he climbs the tall pine and it supports him and blesses him
    anoints the top of his head nearly 200 ft high before he takes his tremulous flight.
    He wants to soar like brother eagle and sister hawk into keener perception and rebirth. An eagle appears in the story. Is he about to take flight into new possibilities beyond his ego or is he about to physically die?
    He states he can fly with his eyes closed Dead tight shut but he wants to fly with them wide open! He wants to see! Beyond the truth of life and death. Fly close to the light but not melt his wings of resolve.
    I have read that pines are symbolic of a transition zone from meadow to mountain and often represent immortality. In fact, they are often found in cemeteries.
    Whether the un-named (all of us) are dreaming or having mystical visions of flying/dying into a newness of Being is not fully certain. Though there is mention of a vision from the protagonist of a young boy awakening from a dream myth where he had been summoned to overcome a fire-breathing dragon and had the courage and willingness to act…but the boy does not focus on dreams as “they distract from the reality of death.” Instead he states that, “death is nothing to fear”and “is the beginning of beauty.” Beauty in living on the other side of the sun…the other side of the Light of the soul. Shine forth, David!
    Blessings an peace, Virginia

    • Ahhh, Virginia, you are such a gifted, beautiful writer with such a deep, perceptive heart and soul. I don’t know where to begin to respond. First off, I feel it necessary to tell you how deeply you have touched my soul. Your interpretation of my story, your insights into what I was attempting to say about death, is so keen, so astute that it leaves me without an adequate response. One thing I was hoping to get across in my story is that the loneliness, the solitude, of the young boy in the boarding school serves as a springboard into a higher perception of life and death. He is forced to look deeper into life (and death) and, consequently, he feels (and sees) things on a deeper level than his classmates. He envies them but fears their shallowness. While the ability to look only at the surface of things is enviable, he knows that life holds a deeper meaning, a meaning that eludes us, a meaning that hovers on the edge of things, like the pine forest on the edge of the meadow. There, deep in the dark forest, is where he will find his answers. But in order to really know the meaning of life, one must be willing to sacrifice everything, be willing to risk everything, be willing to look death square in the eye. One must be fearless. This is the only way to live truly and fully. But it isn’t what most of us do. Most of us play it safe, follow the easier path. In the story the class is assigned to read, the meaning is supposed to be obvious, and it is to the teacher and the other students, but to the young boy, the meaning isn’t so obvious. It isn’t about the dreamlike nature of the tale, not about showing courage in the face of death, but rather it’s about the search for beauty in death so that one can live, live fully, live fearlessly, live with one’s heart and eyes wide open.

      Your insights are so amazing that even I see things in my story that I didn’t see before. I find it interesting that layers of my story have been opened up to me by your insights. It shouldn’t surprise me since you have such a deep and beautiful soul. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I truly appreciate your thorough reading of my story, and I truly appreciate your keen and thoughtful insights.

      Sending my love,

      • David…thank you for your kind and generous response. I, too, have been searching for the beginnings of beauty in death?
        It’s a profound journey of an awakeneing heart. I’m glad my comment led you to additional meaning found in your own story.
        May we all find the answers…
        With love, peace and blessings.
        I sent you a small story in your email..

    • Brilliant analysis!

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