Have you ever been asked if you would prefer to have wings or a tail? I always answer “tail” but the overwhelming majority of people pick “wings”. Whenever I ask “why wings” the answer is always the same, “then I could fly.” However, not all wings are designed for flying and wings are not the only way to fly.
If we think about how often and in which contexts we use the phrase “flying through…” we might be surprised to discover wings are not always present. We use “flying” to describe feelings of weightlessness, soaring through air, or moving at terrific speeds, not all of which require wings. Additionally many animals accomplish flying in ways that diverge from wings and/or air. Think about flying fish, penguins, or other diving birds that use their wings to “fly” in the water. Consider fast moving land animals, such as cheetahs or gazelles, that are often described as flying.
I discovered my “wings” through swimming. Nothing makes me feel better than flying through the water. Last summer I went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean while vacationing on Fire Island. At the time I was recovering from a shoulder injury and had been swimming less than usual. I had been restricted from doing butterfly specifically because it’s so strenuous.
One day in the salt water, surrounded by waves, an irresistible urge took over. And then I did it, a few flaps of fly just to remember the sensation of “flying through the water.” For a few brief moments I was a great sea creature, like a penguin or dolphin, propelling myself effortlessly through the waves. The rush, the feeling, soaring through the air and water against the dynamic motion of the waves and the undertow. Incredible. My shoulder reacted later with a few sharp pangs, but it was totally worth it.
*Bonus: Why do I always pick tail? There’s no rational reason. I think tails are cool and extremely expressive for most animals. I have a natural aversion to feathers so the thought of having feathered appendages coming out of my back sounds creepy. To me having “wings” is not synonymous with flying. What if I got dirty pigeon wings? Or small sparrow wings that couldn’t lift me off the ground? Also wearing shirts would be challenging. A tail seems easier to accommodate.