In this collection of inspirational short stories, ordinary people and one extraordinary flock of ducks search for peace of mind in rural America and the Swiss Alps.
The titular tale features a duck named Johannsen guiding his flock south during hunting season as he meditates on love, beauty and the meaning of life. Ratliff’s ducks seem ridiculous until they earn their wings, in this case through a dramatic showdown with a Labrador retriever. The rest of the collection features human characters. “High-Level Love” is a chaste story in which an unrequited love leaves a romantic ideal untested as a small-town reporter’s friendships with the patrons at a local diner help him uncover the town librarian’s secret passion, which leads him to writing the best piece of his career. “December Encounter” and “An Alpine Happening” echo the folk wisdom of Chicken Soup for the Soul as two families of ailing children pray for a miracle. A religious work, the book’s plot and characters are secondary to the spiritual message, which We Fly at Dawn delivers in brief chapters enhanced with illustrations, photographs and poetry that help keep the pace. Ratcliff’s characters are humble people with surprisingly lofty thoughts—they even express their philosophical unrest in verse. As a mysterious old man explains in “December Encounter,” “Poetry…is the mirror of the soul, and it is your soul and its association with the infinite intelligence of the universe that will make or break your happiness.” This soul-searching forms the arc that ultimately leads to an affirmation of Christian faith. In “Sunday-Morning Christmas” a preacher quotes the books of John, Romans and Revelations to convert Billy Joe; a sawmill worker, husband and father who feels an emptiness he can’t explain. In a suspenseful but heavy-handed conclusion, Billy Joe comes home from work to discover that his family is missing and learns the true meaning of Christmas.
Imaginative and competently written, the stories deliver a well-developed sermon for the Christian reader.