"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Six Eagles and a Drunk

The first half of our trip around the refuge was uneventful. As is our custom, we had windows down, the heat cranked, and seat belts off for ease of movement. Walt drove with his camera and its big lens resting across his lap. I rode shotgun with the good binoculars which I'd bought him for a birthday a few years ago (and which he rarely gets to use). The wind blasted through the car with what seemed like malice, but we just buttoned coats and ignored it.

There were the usual coots and mallards and shovelers. Distant calls of redwing blackbirds. Canada geese and tundra swans flocked by the hundreds.

More cars than we usually see on a Sunday afternoon strung out in front and behind, creating a beaded necklace encircling the wide throat of the refuge. We played a slow game of leapfrog, passing a car pulled over to study the nutria grazing on the nearby dike, being passed as we stopped so Walt could shoot a solo snaky-necked egret.

While Walt focused his camera on the egret, my eyes were drawn upward to soaring wings which tipped just enough to reveal the flash of tail white that could only belong to a bald eagle. I craned around to watch him circle behind when another flash of brown and white hurtled right at him mid-flight. The two flew out of sight, one pursued, the other pursuer.

Just a few yards up the road, we noticed several cars bunched together, and arrived just in time to see another baldie lift up from a branch and disappear into the skim milk sky in the disconcerting way of eagles, like animals in a magic act.

For another long stretch there was no more excitement. We noted the dearth of herons and harriers, usually abundant for our visits. Walt started to speed up a bit through a stretch where we've only ever seen the chewed evidence of beaver presence, geese in the distance, and the occasional grebe, when we both noticed brake lights filling the curve in the road just ahead.

As we sat in the line, no room for leapfrog in that narrow spot, waiting to move forward, I began to hear the high-pitched whistle that could only belong to a raptor. I saw the white head in the midst of bare branches first, then the red meat between talons, and realized I was seeing a mature eagle feeding. We watched for a few minutes before I spotted movement a few branches above, which turned out to be a yearling: dark streaked brown, fluffed feathers, with eyes that begged to be given a turn at the carcass below.

Suddenly from out of nowhere another yearling shot into the picture, causing the perched one to topple. Somehow they both ended up on the adult which resulted in a frantic flurry of feathers and wings. When all three had resettled themselves on separate branches, I noticed the door open on the car in front of us. A woman was trying to see the birds, one of which was peering down just above her head, so when she stepped out of the car, I tried to tell her to look up.

Instead, she staggered toward me with a loopy grin on her face and alcohol-pink eyes, almost tipping over when her foot caught a soft rut. The driver of her car was yelling at her to get back in the car now! which she blithely ignored. She apparently needed to point out one of the other eagles to me as the one she and her partner had rescued earlier in the day. I smiled and nodded in response, wondering if she really believed such a preposterous story, and more, if she expected me to.  Her smile grew wider in the telling of her tale, which made her head bob which threatened to topple her. For a moment she looked lost, uncertain, but then her smile returned and she turned and lurched back to her car, which took off like the getaway car at a bank robbery.

In the days since our visit, I've found myself thinking about that woman even more than the wonder of getting to observe such amazing eagle behaviors.

Part of it is the incongruity of running into a drunk person in the refuge that is our sanctuary. People are not supposed to get out of cars there this time of year, so we rarely have contact with our fellow birders anyway, but when we do it's usually to share a smiling nod or the name of a bird or to point out an interesting sight. There is a definite air of dignity and holiness about that wild place.

Mostly, though, I think I can't quite get her out of my mind because she could easily have been me twenty years ago. Needing a drink to feel the glory around me, to feel safe, to feel anything at all. Unable to face a Sunday afternoon without the false fluid warmth of alcohol to soften the ever-present edges. Telling stories that I believed made me look important to smiling strangers, and not realizing how obvious my altered state was.

I wish I could save her from herself, and convince her she is beautiful and appealing and enough. I wish I could tell her to stop listening to the lies that keep her imprisoned, that she has the power to break free. I wish I had been able to say, "It's possible to find your own light. I'm proof, in the same way these eagles are proof that you can come back from the brink to flourish and thrive."


Amber said...

If only we could do that for people... But you know what? I bet someone has said these things to her. She isn't ready yet to receive it. Someday, maybe she will. Some part of her has hope and believes in beauty, or she would not watch the birds, don't you think? So maybe she will be able, one day, to turn that love onto herself.

As you did.


Terri Tiffany said...

My heart breaks for the woman.Everyone is in their own timeframe and I pray her eyes open soon.

Stacy said...

I love the Eagle pics. How wonderful to be able to watch them so closly.

Everyone needs to come to recognize there trials on their own.

I wish I could save every soul too, I've learned that I'm not the Savior and we need to just be the guide, when called upon. That's a hard lesson to learn.

DJan said...

It's interesting to me how people who are drunk simply have no idea how they appear to others, even those who aren't recovering alcoholics. Very well written, and I truly enjoyed sitting in your car with you, watching the eagles, and eaglets. I feel for your encounter, too.

yaya said...

We have many eagle nests in our area and I hope to get out and catch some pics myself this year. You made me feel as if I was with you and how sad for the lady you encountered...I'm happy that you are up with the eagles..flying free.

Linda Myers said...

What a jolt, the drunk woman in the midst of the refuge sightings.

She probably won't even remember. I wouldn't have. But that was a while back, as you said.

Sally Wessely said...

This is quite a story. Thankfully, you were able to break free of your need to drink. Think what you would have missed. Think what we would have missed if you would have obliterated your beautiful gift for reflection on life by numbing your mind and your voice with alcohol.

I agree with Amber. Some part of this woman must have hope and believe in beauty. I hope she is able to free herself and take flight as you have.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I have such an aversion to alcoholics. My son's father, my husband, my grandmother, my brother in law, my father in law, so many alcoholics who have shaped me and it pisses me off. I think alcoholics must be different than me and yet they are not, you're proof of that and I thank you for the reminder and for the lesson. To not judge, to let go of my old hurts and habits.

Lately I have been meeting recovering alcoholics, quite a lot of them and I'm thinking I need to pay attention to something here.

#1Nana said...

I have that same urge when I see very obese people. I think that once we have made the journey to recovery, whatever the addiction, we have the responsibility to help guide others on the path. I wait for the signs that they are seeking directions...

Wanda said...


Carol............. said...

My favorite saying is "everyone walks their own path".....and at times when I get frustrated with others I have to remind myself of that....as much as I may want to alter their path.

One good thing about meeting that woman is that she probably made you appreciate so much where you have been and where you are now. It's something you can be very proud of.

I can so identify with your thoughts in your last post regarding God......there is much wisdom in your words.

Sandi said...

Oh wow! There but by the grace of God . . . yeah. What a strange afternoon for you. I can relate so well, as you well know! It reminded me of a neighbor we used to have, and how I was never brave enough to step out of my comfort zone, and how I never told her that she could save herself, and how I wish I had, because I learned a few years ago that she died in a drunk driving accident, self induced.

Thank you for reminding me that we are here for a reason, and that sometimes we need that reminder, so that maybe the next time, we'll be braver.

Desiree said...

Wonderful to meet you - thank you ever so much for popping over to my blog! I am in a great rush right now, but I am most certainly going to be back as soon as I can, to explore your blog :)

I haven't time to read this post yet, either, much as I am tempted (BE BACK SOON!)

I hope you have a wonderful day!

Carol E Wyer said...

There are only a handful of blogs where I feel the writing draws you in and is powerful and commanding. Yours is definitely one of them. I've been reading avidly. Your bird descriptions are captivating. Sadly I can also associate with the drunken lady.
Excellent post

graceonline said...

I saw part of a PBS documentary on eagles the other day. Contrary to what I have understood in the past, the narrator said scientists have discovered that eagles are social creatures.

Interesting that you were watching these majestic birds, formerly classified as "loners" by some, now thought to be social, at just the moment when you had an encounter with a woman in whom you recognized the ghost of your former alone self.

If I extrapolate too much, I apologize. Just what jumped out at me.

Thank you so much for sharing this, for the amazing images, verbal and photographic, for the wisdom you share.

I was struck with "It's possible to find your own light. I'm proof."

What I love about that is that you recognize the light you are in the world. Never doubt it.

Charlene N. K. said...

Beautiful story and analogy. Maybe someday, someone would cross her path and be able to save her.

Laura said...

Love you Deb, and your observations of the wild, the imprisoned, the lost and mostly the healing that is possible....for all of us caught in the confusion of any difficult situation. The light is present, even in the tangled branches of story, the twisted branches of a forest. The light is present.

Desiree said...

Poignant post! Full of awe at the beauty and splendour of your birding observations and sightings, yet twinged with a deep sadness and compassion for the woman with whom you happened to cross paths.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Ditto Amber.

kario said...

First of all, I believe that you have done all of those things for her, simply by sending out your compassion to the universe with her likeness on it.

Second, the way you write about your experiences in the natural world always give me chills. Thanks for sharing.

Katie Gates said...

Well told.

Mark Lyons said...

What a wonderful story. My joy comes from you telling yourself (and accepting) the words you would have liked to tell the woman. While we can't save those who chose not to be saved, we can choose to embrace the miracle ourself. Thank you for the way you continue to share wisdom and insight through the power of your words.


Barb said...

Sometimes, I, too, wish I could wave a magic wand so that someone else wouldn't make the same mistakes I once did. However, magic rarely works. I know change is only possible by the effort of the person themselves. Like the Eagle, you are soaring now, Deb. Maybe someday, the young woman will make the decision to test her wings, too.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

"creating a beaded necklace encircling the wide throat of the refuge."

I think my favorite of the beautiful images in this piece. I also think this essay has just begun.