Excuse me, my good sir or madam, would you like to see a bald eagle?

I’m walking my dog in the park. It’s nearly dark already — slept away my weekend again, second verse same as the first — and the streetlamps have just come on. A pair of men pass on the sidewalk, going in the opposite direction, and I smile and nod absently; it sounds like they’re speaking Russian to each other, but I’m not really listening; in my earbuds, The Tragically Hip are singing, Twenty years for nothing, well that’s nothing new; besides, no one’s interested in something you didn’t do. The cold is getting sharper quickly as the last of the light leeches away. I shouldn’t have spent those ten minutes standing at the park’s north end, watching a murder of crows wheeling overhead, squabbling amongst themselves about who would be perching next to whom in the branches of the single bare tree that they’d all decided to cram themselves into. (It was like watching children fight over who sat where at the lunch table, but their wings were outstretched so beautifully against the gray sky and they tumbled so easily through the air, like leaves caught up together in a whirlwind.)

Behind me, one of the men says in English, “Oh, I should tell her. Excuse me, miss!”

I turn around. There’s no one else about that he might be addressing, and sure enough he’s walking back toward me, while his friend hangs back, looking a bit embarrassed.

“Excuse me, miss,” the fellow says. “Would you like to see a bald eagle?”

Beside me, my dog sits down, like he’s too puzzled by the question to remain standing and needs to sit and think on it awhile. I picture him smoking a pipe with a perplexed expression on his face, and make a mental note to Photoshop that later. My brain also conjures up a few helpful suggestions: Decline offer if said bald eagle is in his van. Decline offer if “bald eagle” is nickname for something in his pants. I imagine the side of a van with “free candy” crudely crossed out and “free bald eagles!!!” spraypainted over the top, and I have to admit that were this the case, I would at least have to applaud his originality.

Considering and subsequently discarding several witty rejoinders, I eventually settle for saying, “Um?” I’m fairly certain my mouth is hanging open, and my dog Trudeau and I are probably wearing matching expressions of eyebrow-raising confusion.

The man seems to pick up on this. “I’m telling everyone,” he says reassuringly, which isn’t actually reassuring at all. I still haven’t even the faintest of ideas what in the hell he’s talking about, and I’m not sure what “everyone” he could be talking about, unless he’s been chasing down joggers on the footpaths clear on the other side of the park’s loop road. I wouldn’t be any more surprised by that than I am by the whole conversation.

He points up into a cluster of bare trees that stand inside the aviary fence, and says, “Look up there, in the branches of the bare tree. Can you see it?”

I can’t help but think that this is like that part in a fight scene when somebody says, “Look, it’s bigfoot!” or “Wow, naked ladies!” and distracts their opponent long enough to knock them unconscious. I’m putting my back to the guy’s buddy by peering into the trees, but whatever; if this elaborate ruse is all in aid of a mugging, then I say they’ve earned the contents of my wallet ($7 in cash and a maxed out food stamp card; suck on that, muggers), and besides, I’m pretty certain that Trudeau will avenge me. I mean, unless these guys are prepared with dog cookies in which case Trudeau can probably be bought, the traitorous bastard.

The point being, I turn and look up at the tree — trees, because “the bare tree” isn’t very descriptive when there are like ten of them right there — and I squint and curse my eyes, and I don’t see a single damned thing. (My conservation biology teacher in college used to mournfully lament that people were only interested in the “charismatic megafauna”… animals like lions and elephants and pandas and whatever, the ones you see lots of nature documentaries about. I argued that I was rather restricted to a study of large animals because my eyes are so bad I’d never be taking up birdwatching.)

“You see it?” the guy says again, and he’s so earnest that I tell him yeah, I do, that’s so cool, even though it takes another ten seconds before I actually spot it, because I really don’t want this to turn into a truly awkward moment where he tries somehow even harder to share his birding discovery with me. I do see it now though, a hunch-shouldered shape huddled on the farthest branch, looking down into the aviary like it’s deigned to come and visit its stranger relations.

“That’s awesome,” I say, and Trudeau sighs because he hasn’t the slightest interest in birds (he has a much keener preference for squirrels).

“It’s visiting from the wild,” the guy tells me, proud and earnest, like the eagle is here on his personal invitation, just to give him the opportunity to interact with strangers. “It’s not part of the aviary.”

“Yeah,” I agree, because come on, obviously. Ticket sales would probably go down if their own birds were free to perch high above the aviary and fly away on a whim. “Thanks,” I tell him again, which is actually another way of saying, Yes I see, please go away now because you are making this awkward.

He seems to pick up on the unspoken social signal, and finally rejoins his friend, leaving Trudeau and I to continue on our way, though we don’t go far, just to where the view improves. I’m grateful to the gentleman, strange as the exchange was, for pointing the bird out, and grateful even moreso that he left us alone to enjoy the sight. The eagle is a splendid, large adult, and its perch is just high enough that I’m wishing for binoculars and just low enough that still, even with my poor eyesight, I can see that while I’m standing there looking up, the bird is looking back down. We’re both caught in the pool of light cast by a nearby lamp post, and it makes the white feathers on the bird’s head shine with a particular brilliance.

The eagle doesn’t do anything in particular, just sits and stares, but just its presence makes something stir in my chest, some weak thing fluttering inside my ribcage, the beating of phantom wings against my heart a reminder that even a little piece of the wilderness can make us feel just a little more alive.

After awhile, the eagle turns its head again, apparently bored with its view of us, and the deepening darkness gathers in against its brown body like the evening itself has also chosen to roost on that branch. We continue on — reluctantly, in my case, and quite eagerly in Trudeau’s, as I think he still had hope for a squirrel sighting — and though I keep my eyes peeled for other intrepid park-goers to share the discovery with, none are forthcoming. And while I wouldn’t mind sharing this sight with someone else — I’ve no doubt it would be just as wonderfully random and awkward as it was for me — I’m not quite mad enough to go running after the joggers.

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21 thoughts on “Excuse me, my good sir or madam, would you like to see a bald eagle?

  1. Cool, gotta be thankful for those who want to “pay it forward” and thank you for paying that thought forward , not easy to put on paper after the fact. At least not for me:)<3

  2. I am amazed that you were able to write an entire blog out of that one question!!! and an entertaining blog at that!!!

    Good stuff Mackenzie, when is the book coming out?

  3. A murder of crows…don’t think I’ve ever actually seen anyone use that term although I’ve known about it for quite a while. Would just be another flock to most folks.

    Excellent writing, the images are now etched in my mind. Nice work!

    • I’m always looking for an excuse to say “a murder of crows.” I’m not sure there’s a more evocative phrase in all the animal kingdom. :D They’re my favorite birds so it’s always a pleasure to watch them. Speaking of which, I need to get started on those books about ravens that I have on my shelf so I know what I’m looking at with all those corvids. :D

  4. Loved it – nice blog. I think Trudeau would have saved you though – even if there were cookies.

    • Hah well, I’m just never sure about him. He’s a big cupcake really (even though he’s so big that people often cross the street at the sight of him). There was one time when he sort of lunged at a guy who was acting kind of strange (high or drunk, I think) which made me think maybe he wouldn’t be completely useless in a fight. ;D Just having him with me is really nice when I’m running alone and things like that, but I’d love to teach him to bark on command or something like that. (It’s unlikely to work… I’ve only heard him bark twice in the whole time I’ve had him.)

  5. Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing.

  6. It’s a week for bald eagles, then. My hubby has stopped in CO on his way to AZ from NC and mentioned to me that twice, he has been witness to these magnificent birds on different, important occasions…and now your timely blog. Wonder what it all means? Love your writing brain. Thanks, Mackenzie. Nit’s lovely to hear your ‘voice’ again!

    • Hey Jennifer! This seems to be a time of year when bald eagles are wintering in more populated areas… in February there’s a whole bald eagle viewing day here in the Salt Lake area that I might try out. I know really nothing about their traveling patterns or whether they sort of follow the salmon runs or what, but I do know you’re more likely to see them this time of year.

      A few years ago I was driving not far from here on my way back to LA and hit a long patch of very heavy fog on the freeway… like traffic was going 10mph or less, though there were very few cars. A bald eagle suddenly swooped out of the fog, flew right above my windshield (he was probably about a foot from the glass) and disappeared again on the other side. Totally blew my mind, I’ll never forget it.

  7. What Sharon said…

  8. Bald Eagles–any magnificent bit of Nature–are glorious to see whenever we can. They make me stand in awe. But to see them in an unexpected space is so much better! Thanks for sharing.

  9. I am laughing out loud! Love your writing style, turn of phrase and metaphors. The image of a mugger sucking on an old food stamp gave me such a chuckle.

  10. Pingback: As much as I love to write … « Ride Groom Feed

  11. I found your blog via a post linked from TMIYC’s and I’m so glad I did :)
    I’m trying to develop coaching techniques for women going through change in their lives and am particularly keen to use the affinity and cues we can get from nature to help us – you so describe what I mean when you say ‘some weak thing fluttering inside my ribcage, the beating of phantom wings against my heart a reminder that even a little piece of the wilderness can make us feel a little more alive’ Just love this! Course you are very funny too. Very fine post indeed.

  12. This is wonderful and so well written. I’ve only been fortunate enough to see a bald eagle in the wild once.

  13. We hope for these moments in our lives, then we hope that we are aware enough to recognize one before it’s too late. A little jewel of a moment. Perhaps there is nothing to take from it except the fact that you shared a sweet and unique sight with a fellow human being. But I would argue that that is more than enough. Thanks for sharing. :)

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