Porch, Eagle, Binoculars
The old man sat in the old wooden rocker on his back porch all afternoon. His friends used to call him Red, due to the hair that used to grace the top of his head. It was mostly gone now, and what was left sure wasn’t red anymore. The friends were gone too, but he hardly cared about that. Red had a great backyard; it oversaw a small lake and part of a mountain range. Tango, North Dakota. About as far north in the USA as you can get without coming south again, he used to joke. You could hold a camera up out here and take a perfect picture without ever looking in the viewfinder.
The old man needed the natural beauty around him. Needed to be able to see it, breathe it. Hear it, smell it. He didn’t mind being by himself. He could hardly stand anyone’s company these days anyhow. He’d come here to heal, and for him that couldn’t be done with someone always under foot asking him how he was feeling. Family kept saying he was hiding up there in the mountains, not dealing with his grief. Whatever. He had all he could need or want; the stars at night and the morning wind to soothe him. It’s easy to forget and think you’re happy up here without all the reminders of sorrow in tow.
Red had gone from big cities to country towns and back during his working years. The ‘productive’ years, as his late wife Diana used to say – but joking, she was always joking. She had known what real productivity was. It was with her, always had been. Red wished he had discovered that at thirty instead of sixty. Before his wife and partner of 40 years had been diagnosed with the big “C.” She had passed in the spring, a year ago now. Red hadn’t cried then and it was the furthest thing from his mind now. He mourned his wife, missed her every day. But the tears simply escaped him.
It’s better here, he could feel her here in the mountains they had loved to vacation in. He could feel her with him. He could see her sweet face in each sunrise; hear her gentle singing when the waves lap at the small beach down the way. He could hear her call and see her soar every time an eagle took wing. They had shared joy at all of these things together.
Red lifted his binoculars and checked a nearby eagle’s nest. He’d only seen the male so far this week; but if the male was here the female would be nearby. He couldn’t see her in the nest but she would be gathering grasses and more branches to enlarge the aerie. Some of these nests can weigh a ton and be more than 12 feet across! Amazing creatures. They mate for life, these bald eagles.
They had been nesting on the side of that mountain for years. Red had seen their babies born, grown, seen some die too. He had hiked over there and seen the eggshells pushed out of the nest along with the other detritus that accumulates. Fish bones and soiled grass and feathers. Kind of gross but real, and that was important to him lately.
He considered getting up, there were chores to do. Wood to be chopped, nights were still pretty cold in these parts. He knew he should draw more water too, before it got dark and the path became difficult to navigate. He knew he should but he just wanted to sit a while longer and watch. Interesting, the male keeps circling the nest. Is she in it? It didn’t escape him that Diana would have known what was going on.
The male left the nest and returned quickly with a fish. He landed in the aerie and it looked like he was pushing the fish across the nest. Well now, you can’t feed babies like that, not this early in the season. Young ones would need that food chopped up… is it the female in the nest and he’s feeding her? But she would forage for herself unless she was hurt. Maybe he could get over there tomorrow and look, not that the male would let him anywhere near. Whoa now, look at this!
The male had picked up something large and was struggling out of the nest to fly out over the lake. Red could see feathers, ah no, it’s the female. Ah, that’s a shame. Something must have got her; she’d flown back to the nest and died there. The male carried her body out over the lake. Oh, wow!
Red stood and moved to the edge of the porch, concentrating on his binoculars. The eagle took the female to the middle of the lake and just dropped her in! Maybe he knew that if he pushed her out of the nest animals would take her apart at the foot of the cliff. Wow, he took her out over the water and dropped her there, let her body sink out of sight. She may have been too heavy and he dropped her, but it hadn’t looked that way. He had taken her there in one graceful swoop then returned to the aerie.
The eagle landed back in the nest and gave a great call. He understands and screams his rage for the fish and bears and old men to hear. Red absorbed it then screamed back. For the fish and bears and eagles to hear. Stunned, Red sat in the old brown rocker. Gradually he became aware that his cheeks were cold. Cold and wet. His vision blurred. It had been a year since Diana had passed he had kept her alive with him up here in this aerie he had created in the high north. Seeing this had forced him to face her loss. I am alone, he thought. Like the eagle is now. The lone male takes wing and swoops low over the lake. Red watched him fly away over the treetops. Would this be the last he saw of him?
Afternoon gave way to evening. Red had eaten and cleaned up, drawn the water he needed and chopped wood for the fireplace. The final rays of the sun cast a brilliant light down the side of the cliff the eagles had nested on. He wandered out on the porch with a cup of coffee. He saw the eagle fly back in and grabbed the binoculars off the porch rail. What’s this? Small wings fluttering at the eagles feet. Baby in the nest. Nature renews. Well. What do you think of that, he wondered, smiling.