FREE

Five days in Wisconsin at Lake Archibald provides a wholly different perspective on life than does Florida, where most of us for entertainment listen raptly to bingo numbers and watch the grass grow. Flying up to Green Bay on a phone call from my ex-wife to assist her to drive an errant car and Maggie, her darling pup, back home, I exchanged my tropical vista for one of the North Woods. Remote, pristine, heavily forested, and isolated, it is an antidote to our gross civilization. In addition to fish, the lake is populated by beaver, muskrat, otter, raccoons, porcupines, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, myriad kinds of birds including hummingbirds that sip at our feeders, several sets of bear tracks, a family of loons whose weird call our progenitors heard centuries ago, and two nesting eagles. The latter can frequently be seen flying high above the lake, and infrequently dropping into it on some fishing expedition.

On my first afternoon, my ex told us she'd seen an eagle fly into a tree jutting out over the lake at the next point, perhaps two hundred yards from our dock. I couldn't see anything, but my son Brad, my seven-year old grandson Matthew, and I decided to swim over to the tree she'd mentioned. Donning our fins, face masks, and snorkels, we swam across the small bay separating the points. Matthew, small fry, swam between us to prevent any hungry muskie from taking a nip of him. The water temperature this year was in the low seventies, far warmer than that of average years, where I have seen it never rise above 68 degrees. Nevertheless, it was still cool for the first hundred yards or so, and none of us dawdled. After a few minutes we located the eagle. He was sitting on a large branch perhaps forty feet over the water, facing the afternoon sun to the west. It was closer than I recall seeing a bald eagle before, and his white head and fierce expression stood out clearly as we treaded water watching him. Most often, eagles select the highest trees around the lake on which to perch. There, 80 or more feet up, they survey the surrounding area, majestic in their lofty seclusion. This was a down-to-earth eagle, and he spread his seven-foot wingspan about half way, sitting on a bare branch with wings unfurled, sunning or drying them off. He paid no attention whatever to us as we gradually drew closer until we were nearly under the tree. Whoever picked the bald eagle for our American symbol knew what he was doing: it is the personification of ferocity, hauteur, grandeur, and unconquerable spirit. This magnificent bird with its large white head, hooked beak, black and baleful eyes, huge wingspan, great talons and slate dark feathers impresses the viewer as a symbol of absolute freedom. Seemingly unafraid of anything on this mortal earth, it clearly would prefer death to fetters.

After watching it quietly for fully five minutes, Matthew became cold. Brad swam back with him, leaving me to further study the eagle. Totally oblivious of me, it continued to spread its wings and savor the warmth of the waning sun. As I looked up, I thought that surely some important patriotic or political concept would occur to me. Nothing did. Irrespective of what mankind thought or did not think, that eagle belonged where it was. I, the wilderness intruder, an old naval frogman now about as omnipotent as a frog, could only admire its majesty. All we human beings can ever do is attempt to feel and emulate the fierce spirit in that eagle. It perched there, an object of rare beauty, not even remotely connected to any political symbolism or system, but it showed me better than any book I have ever read why men want to be proud and free.

No-one has ever mistaken a bald eagle for a dove, and they never will. Nor do men ever want to follow the dove. They want to follow the eagle. Men enjoy watching and listening to cooing doves, but want to live like eagles. If there is a moral to that, find it for me.

United we stand. Free. Can we continue it in diversity?

9/16/99

Sam Orr sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)