Paul Andersen: A neighborhood show by the Eagles
I was hanging up the laundry on our clothesline last week when I heard the cackle of a raven. I glanced up and beheld a gift of nature.
The raven circling above seemed to be calling my attention to a matching pair of bald eagles soaring silently in the deep blue sky. The raven shared the same airspace as the eagles and provided a dramatic contrast to their size and color.
Clothespin in hand, I stood transfixed by these huge birds of prey. Sometimes they flew in concert, one after the other, flashing their white plumage in a widening spiral. Other times they flew in contrast, arcing away from each other, only to wheel in synchronicity back together. The choreography was splendid in this graceful aerial display.
Soon another raven entered the scene and joined its mate. The ravens plied the same thermals with their raptor counterparts. As ravens do, they floated effortlessly and vocalized liberally in raspy squawks and chortling gurgles. The eagles were silent and seemingly above the guttural bird chatter of their ebony avian cousins.
This particular raven couple is familiar to us at Seven Castles up the Frying Pan Valley. A lifetime mating pair, they often announce themselves to my son, Tait, and I as we clamber around the rock formations or perch on a lofty ledge for our afternoon sojourns.
But the baldies are a novelty this far above the river, circling over our home and across the pinon/juniper forest that defines our desert microclimate. We have seen this pair of eagles several times this winter, once standing like roosting ducks on the bank of the river, looking like a couple of fishermen enjoying a fresh catch of rainbow sushi.
The baldies are winter birds on the Frying Pan, replaced by golden eagles in the summers. Both species raise their fledglings here, and we occasionally see the youngsters in their rough and mottled plumage learning the lessons of survival.
Birds signal the change of seasons as witnessed on a recent ski tour on the Hay Park Trail at the base of Mount Sopris, where chickadees sped chirping and flitting through the evergreens, singing as if spring were just around the corner. Never mind that it was 15 degrees with a biting wind and 4 feet of snow on the ground. These birds know what’s coming with an early thaw at the end of a wimpy winter.
The sun is high and hot in mid-March. Once the clouds part, it melts snow with intense solar efficiency. Water gushes down our gutters and downspouts, spreading moisture onto the greening grass of our bare lawn.
Back to the moment: I stood there among the dangling laundry and watched the eagles and ravens cavorting overhead as if they had not a care in the world, unaffected by the human gawking at them from below.
If reincarnation is possible, I would like to come back as a fish-eating eagle, lounging on cottonwood limbs, eyeing the ripples of the river with laser vision, choosing just the right trout for dinner.
And then, dropping like a bomb toward the water, eyes fixed on my target, talons spread, I would unfurl my wings just before impact. My talons would make purchase, and I would lift off with a squirming trout twisting in my relentless eagle claws.
I could return as a raven, too. As an artful, aerial acrobat, I could learn the air currents and master my wings to the point of effortless flight across canyons and mountain peaks, surveying the world from any vantage I choose.
Back to the moment: The four aerialists drifted up and away toward the red rock cliffs, their soaring wings dark against the bright sky, their shadows flashing across cliff faces brilliantly lit by the slanting, rosy rays of afternoon sun.
I like hanging out the laundry if just to hear the cackle of a raven, to take notice of nature in her beauty, grace and majesty. What a pleasure to be alive and aware with eyes to see and ears to hear and a moment to pause, look and listen at the wonders in my backyard.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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