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
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?
Sam Orr firstname.lastname@example.org