I had a spectacular encounter with a wild carnivore about 43 years ago.
I was with my first wife, lying on a picnic blanket on top of the lip of the crater at Crater Lake in Oregon. She fell asleep while I just sat there mindlessly gazing off into the distance. I’m fond of doing that when I’m outdoors in the wild. On another similar occasion earlier at Mt. Rainier, I caught sight of a faun on the edge of a clearing doing the same kind of mindless gazing.
This time I saw a brown speck above the horizon directly ahead of me, about 20 degrees up. I thought at first it was a fly, but it wasn’t moving side to side like a fly would. As it got noticeably bigger, I thought it could be an approaching plane, but the angle up stayed constant about 20 degrees.
Then the brown speck got big enough I could see it had wings, not like a fly’s wings, but like bird wings. My adrenaline kicked in, and when that happens, time always slows down for me. So the next few seconds seemed longer than they possibly could have been.
I saw it was definitely a bird. A big, brown bird with a six-foot wingspan. I could tell it was a raptor. An eagle? Probably … gliding downward directly at my head.
Later, I realized that I should have thought to wake my wife up in time to see the eagle take my head off. But when you’ve got an eagle positioned to take your head off, even when time has slowed down for you, thoughts like that don’t get formed. Instead, I just watched the bird close in — my heart in my stomach — waiting.
It got to within 10 feet of me when I saw it flip the tips of its wings just slightly, enough to power the bird upward and over my head and away. It was, needless to say, uplifting. My heart returned to its proper place.
I later found out from a park ranger that I’d almost certainly encountered an immature bald eagle, too young to have a white crown. My wife, hearing this, could not contain her annoyance at me for not waking her up.
The eagle didn’t specifically want me. It probably wanted me to be a rabbit, but when it was close enough to see I was too big to be a rabbit, it decided to keep the stoop up until the last second for the fun of it. I wasn’t the game it wanted, so instead it played a game with me.
I was prompted to reflect back on my encounter with the eagle when rehearing “El Condor Pasa.” I’ve never seen a passing Condor. I thought, “Oh yeah, there was that time I saw an eagle pass directly over my head, after a game of chicken.” Which, I guess I won? The eagle flinched, not me!
My favorite poem is “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London” by Dylan Thomas. The first thing that caught me when I saw it on the page was the lack of specificity. A refusal. Death of a child matching the lack of specificity of bombing, I think. I think of it more as the Israel-Hamas war has resumed. The eagle was emphatically alive and as such could be better described by verbs rather than nouns. It was a verb in flight. To kill children in wars requires reification. They have to be collateral damage — things in the way. Reification started out as a verb, but became a noun to reflect what it does.
Speaking of reification, the master before Rumsfeld was Henry Kissinger, now dead at age 100. Kissinger and Nixon prolonged the Vietnam War by several years just to try to optimize their positions at the war’s inevitable conclusion. Remember the evacuation of Saigon? That was optimal. It was arranged by widening the war to Cambodia and killing more people than previously was possible because more people got in the way of it. It was all meant to prevent a domino effect, but instead the bombing of Cambodia caused the Pol Pot domino to fall, and that whole country became collateral damage.
We need to start celebrating life.
Read more of the Dec. 6–12, 2023 issue.