“There’s a pair of bald eagles over at the Oneonta reservoir,” a friend calls as he drives up to our home near the Susquehanna headwaters in New York. “Thanks!” I call back as I head quickly in search of my mom, binoculars and the car keys. Within minutes we are on our way to look for the eagles.
Why do we act so promptly? Sure, bald eagles are fun to look at and Mom and I have enjoyed seeing many in our wide-ranging travels. But we have never seen one here, in the community where we have lived for close to 44 years. My dad taught birding in this area for almost 30 years before he passed on, and never saw an eagle here. So, this makes the possibility of seeing eagles near our home even more special. With great excitement, we anticipate seeking, and finding, this pair of bald eagles.
As we crest the hill and look out over the reservoir’s vista, an uplifting peace starts to grow within me. I know this place; it has given me many gifts. It’s where Dad and Mom taught me some of my first birds and trees. It’s where my family spent hours riding horses through the woods and fields. It’s where I first learned to fish. It’s where I practiced my early photography skills under the patient eye of my father. I know this place, and it is precious.
Even though it’s mid-March and spring has yet to show its face, I visualize the rich variety of spring greens on trees and fields, and the fresh living air of new growth about to burst forth. This reservoir, in all its seasons and ages, has been a part of my life since I can first remember. I feel the presence of each family member with whom I have shared the joy of experiencing this place, and I am content. I know this place, yet it is still new each time I visit. To think that today I might see an eagle here for the first time!
Without hesitation, Mom and I head for one of our favorite spots and before I can stop the car, Mom’s sharp eyes bear fruit. She exclaims, “There’s an eagle!” And is it ever an eagle! There, sitting serenely in the top of a majestic old pine, is the newest gift our reservoir has for us.
We are within 100 feet of the tree’s base, and the eagle is watching us as we watch him. Even without binoculars, and from inside the car, we can see him clearly. With the binoculars, he is oh, so close! Then we creep quietly out of the car, bringing the spotting scope with us, and stealthily closing the doors. Careful not to disturb our special guest, we set up the scope, focus, and peer through the eyepiece, wondering what we will see.
Even after a lifetime of birding, I am not prepared for the power of this first view. The eagle’s head fills the entire scope. Looking straight at me, as if from only a few inches away, is an exquisite creature. Sure, I know why the eagle was chosen as our nation’s symbol, and why so many people love and respect these birds. But experiencing that intense gaze and feeling the eagle’s presence so intimately jolts me into looking with a fresh perspective. I see this eagle as if I am seeing an eagle for the first time. My earlier wish has been doubly fulfilled!
The afternoon sun streams down upon him with a golden radiance that in turn reflects from his head, beak and feathers. Against a backdrop of deep blue sky, his pure white head, rich yellow beak and dark brown shoulder feathers send a crisp and bold image to my eye.
But what strikes me most is his eye. The large black pupil in the center is surrounded by a clear, cool yellow ring. As he calmly watches us, the trees, the sky and the water, he blinks! I am in awe as I see him slowly close, then open, his “eyelid.” I soak in the image: this eagle, in this place.
I gaze, memorizing every detail, as he just sits, observing the world, blinking, oblivious of the soaring joy he is bringing to my mom and I.
After quite some time, Mom and I reluctantly move on around the reservoir to other spots where we continue looking for the second eagle. All the while, we keep looking back across the water to where our eagle still sits.
We find where I heard my first black-throated blue warbler. We find where my sister’s horse thought there were “griffins” under the bridge waiting to jump on her. We find where Dad and I escaped untainted when we released a skunk that we had captured to keep it from raiding garbage cans in our neighborhood. We find where my brother caught a pickerel. We find where my other brother’s Shetland pony used to buck him off. We don’t find the second eagle, but we keep looking.
Our first eagle still sits, looking out over this timeless landscape and adding his own priceless contribution. He is undisturbed even when a couple and their dog pass boisterously beneath his perch. He is undisturbed by the noise of cars and trucks passing on the adjacent road. He is undisturbed by things that do not truly impact his existence in this place at this time.
We never find the second eagle, but we do find something even more special. Our first eagle brings us hope that someday, we’ll see another eagle here. And our first eagle also helps us find peace and abundant joy that have remained with us. They are indelibly linked to this most precious place.