Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Sunday Morning Meds--Eagles soar

The birds of the air nest by the waters; 
they sing among the branches.” Psalm 104:12

Friends of mine are excited because a couple of bald eagles, born just this spring, have returned—at least for the time being—to a pair of ancient cottonwoods on their land along the Missouri River. Mom and Dad are long gone, it seems, but the chicks have doubled back for a while.

It seems a stretch to call a bald eagle a “chick,” but the returnees are. Easily distinguishable from their parents, young bald eagles don’t go bald—that is, they don’t take on that distinguishing white head—until they mature at four or five years old. Until then, they look almost like golden eagles.

Bald eagles were placed on the Endangered Species list in 1967, but most experts believe they’ll be removed soon, their rehabilitation has been so successful. Almost miraculously they’ve reappeared in our neighborhood, along the Floyd, this spring. They hadn’t been around for decades, if ever.

Still, most of us see them so infrequently that when we do, we notice. They are, like the birds of verse 14, very much “by the waters.” They’re huge, of course, the females (slightly larger than the males) have a wingspan of as great as 90 inches and can reach a height of nearly three feet.

And they soar. My word, do they soar. Almost every North American Indian tribe includes some kind of eagle-like motion in its repertoire of dance steps, men (usually) who swoop and soar, arms outstretched, miming the kingly ease of an eagle’s spectacular heavenly grace.

Eagles symbolize freedom as they wheel through the open skies, aloof and regal. It’s no wonder we put them on our coins, and fancy dancers mimic their majesty.

Not everyone likes them. No less a figure than John James Audubon, America’s legendary bird-lover, thought the eagle wasn’t really a fit symbol; and Ben Franklin thought the same—“a rank coward,” Franklin said, “a bird of bad moral character.” He felt the turkey would make a better national symbol. (Try not to giggle.)

An eagle’s cry is shockingly out of character, high-pitched and shrill, seemingly panic-stricken, a sharp chirping that is greatly unbecoming of a presence that appears so fearless and magnificent. Approach a nest sometime and you’ll set both parents a’screaming—like jays, except more soprano. They’ll soar in majesty above you, but you’ll wish for ear plugs. It’s like seeing Billy Graham rail on his kids or Schwartzenegger squeal.

I like that. I think an eagle’s bizarre voice is just fine. “Nothing can satisfy but what confounds; nothing but what astonishes is true,” says Andrea Barrett in one of her short stories. Expect a scream, but you get a chirp—that’s okay.

I don’t know if the psalmist is thinking of a pair of eagles in verse 11, but I’ll tell you this—whether or not they sound the way we’d like them to, when bald eagles sit, in majesty, on the naked branch of an old cottonwood, they offer praise. Just sitting there, minding their own business, in silence, they’re a testimony. That’s what the psalmist sees and knows.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have an eagle's nest I watch each year as I ride by. Today I noticed they are back! Shortly, they will be tending eggs and ultimately, young eagles, majestic!