Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More About Ollie

After the eagle with the broken wing that had been on our neighbor’s lawn just above our vegetable garden flew away, we just looked at each other for a moment or two.

Then we went back in the house.

As the day progressed we wondered more and more about whether the eagle that had been on the lawn was one and the same with the one we had discovered on the beach the day before.  We wondered if it had been Ollie.

Finally my wife decided to do something other than wonder about it.  She packed up some smelt that had been contributed by an acquaintance from an animal recovery organization and headed south down the beach.

When she got back she said that she had seen the eagle and had left three smelt for him and had departed.  She didn’t know if the eagle had eaten the smelt, or even if eagles liked smelt.  It had been the best that she could do.  I thought that she had done pretty well.

Later that day, in the early evening, we both retraced our steps south.  We had the smelt with us just in case.  As we approached the place where she had left the smelt earlier in the day my wife found two smelt.  Maybe he had eaten one of them, we thought.

After a half mile or so we saw the eagle.  He was huddled in some driftwood with his back to us, but even from that view he cast a demeanor of misery.  We stopped and watched for awhile and decided to let him alone for the time being.  We decided to leave him alone for the night.  We thought that he had had enough stress for one day. We didn’t want to contribute any more of it for the day; we turned and departed.

As we got into the vicinity of our house the canine rocket – the one from the quarter a mile away domicile -  appeared.  He was galloping toward us. 

His master was a quarter mile back. 

I engaged the dog with some tricks that I have learned over the years.  (Those tricks were mainly desperation measures from the days when I used to run every early morning.  That running often took place in locations that I had gone to on business and with which I was totally unfamiliar.  That business travel coupled with running often led to unpleasant encounters with unpleasant dogs.  It once – at a brand new hotel on the outskirts of Dallas – involved an entire pack of dogs that decided that it would be fun to chase me down.  Desperation proved to indeed be the mother of invention on that early morning.  And what I did then has often worked with other dogs, subsequent to that encounter, when they have come after me.  Having trained, and hunted, and lived with - until he died at thirteen years old - a German Shorthaired Pointer, also imparted to me some skills in dealing with dogs.)

So I engaged this dog with all the artifices I had learned.  That kept him in front of me, not past me, going down the beach to the eagle.  Since I continued to walk toward him he kept backing up.

Ultimately my artifices and his backing up reaction to them put him, and me, and his master in close proximity.

An animated conversation ensued. 

Ultimately the dog and his master turned to the north leaving Ollie, or some other eagle, alone on the beach without the harassment of a dog. 

We returned home for the night.

We had a full day the next day leaving no time for checking on the eagle.

In fact, it wasn’t until the next day that we were able to find the time to go see if he was still in the area, still alive and still functioning.

One of our neighbors knew a different way to get to the beach from the one we typically choose.  That different way involved going into the woods up the road from us and going down a primitive trail to a set of steps that opened out onto the beach.  It was quite scenic en route.  When we got to the bottom we stopped for a moment to look around and talk.  I think the eagle was the farthest thing from our minds.

I know it was the furthest thing from my mind.

That was probably why I almost made a startled noise when I turned to face the woods and found myself looking into the eyes of the eagle. 

He was in a tree just in front of me. 

And he was pretty surely Ollie.  I could tell from the dirty tone that dimmed the brilliance of the usually white head of a bald eagle.  His eyes were the same almost white yellow that we had seen previously. They were not the more golden yellow of a younger, healthy bald eagle.

“There he is” I uttered in a gasp turned whisper.  “Oh wow (or something like that)”.  “Let’s see if he will eat some smelt.”

Our neighbor and I moved back what seemed a distance appropriate to creating a comfortable buffer of space between us and Ollie. My wife stayed where she was.  She whistled at the bird as she opened the smelt sack.  She put several smelt down on a log as close to the tree where the bird was as she dared.  The bird just looked into the distance like one of our national leaders posing for Mt Rushmore.

My wife backed away to where our neighbor and I were standing. 

The eagle kept staring and looking presidential.

“Oh look.  He’s looking down.”

“And he’s getting ready to fly.”

As those words were spoken Ollie gathered himself and dropped down to the smelt.  He grabbed one and swallowed it.  Before long he had swallowed all of them. 

We felt really good.

We departed.

For the rest of that evening we discussed the apparently improving prospects for our injured eagle.  Having an appetite must indicate some reservoir of good health we thought.  And eating and getting nourishment must be going to have some ameliorative effect on his overall condition.

Or so we hoped.

The next morning we went to town and bought out the local butcher’s supply of crab bait.  It was mostly salmon skeletons left after filets had been taken.  There was quite a bit of meat still on those skeletons.   We had been told that eagles like scales and fins and heads and stuff.

We had lots of those things.

The acid test came that evening: could we find Ollie again and if we did find him, could we keep him from flying away while we spread his dinner; and would he eat the dinner once it was spread if indeed he stayed rather than fleeing?

We could; we did; and he did. 

As we stopped in front of a very large rock, or very small monolith, I turned and found myself staring into the eyes of a very familiar eagle.  He had been sitting there on the rock.  Was he waiting for us? 

We laid out a dinner of salmon.  

It was unbelievable.  We were standing not far away from an eagle tearing apart salmon skeletons and eating the pieces that he tore with gusto and relish.  I like to cook for myself and others.  I have never felt more culinarilly appreciated. 

We watched as the last vestiges of the salmon disappeared and then took our leave, north up the beach.

No dogs appeared and all seemed to be right with the world.  We had fed Ollie for the second night in a row.  How could things not turn out well, we asked ourselves.

The next morning we got some insight to the answer to that question.

We had decided that if one meal a day was good, two must be great.

So we headed out, about 0730, south down the beach.  We had decided against the trail because it had been raining and things in the closely hugging undergrowth were pretty wet.

We saw an eagle in a tree.  Then we saw another in the same tree.  One had been there and the other had just flown in.  We wondered if either, probably the first, was Ollie.  We looked at both through the binoculars.  We had just about convinced ourselves that the first one was Ollie when both took flight and went off into the nether regions to the south.

Neither had been Ollie.

After walking down the beach some more we hadn’t seen hide nor feather of our breakfast buddy, and we had stopped to assess the situation.  Just as we started, what we had just agreed to a not be about to be a very long continuation of our search, I saw him. 

It was just like every other time.  I suddenly phased from not seeing the eagle to seeing the eagle.  It was an almost ghostly transition from not there to there.

I said something really negative like “Oh no.”  Then I said “I think he’s dead”.

Just ahead of us, tail pointing our direction white head visible but half buried in the crumple of the rest of the pile of feathers that was his body was an eagle.  It had to be our eagle.  And he looked dead.  We slowed but continued.  After a few steps he stirred and sort of flopped, sort of hobbled away from us.  He wasn’t dead but he didn’t look good.

We laid out some food, but his back was to us and we didn’t hold out much hope for his eating it.  We left and went home with hearts substantially heavier than any time in our relationship with Ollie.

That then leaves only last evening to account for.  The best way to tell that tale is to refer you to:

So far so good

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An Eagle is Down

The day after the movie of the eagle that was featured in yesterday’s blog post we were having a late breakfast.  It would have been a late lunch for many, given the time – which was about 1330 – but it was our first meal of the day so it must have been breakfast.

The doorbell rang.

Our doorbell really is a bell.  It’s a lot like the ones employed in the old days by chuck wagon cooks.  It is bell shaped(not too surprising since that is what it is) and it has a ringer mounted up deep in its innards.  It is mounted on the right side of the dual doors that allow entry to the house. That doorbell ring, which consisted of several assertive swings of the ringer with its attached leather thong tether, was followed by a rapid and assertive series of knocks.  This whole deluge of sound was a first for me.  I had never heard the bell before.  I had never thought of it as a doorbell before.  I had thought that it was there to call the hands to dinner.  I have wondered since we got this place what ever became of those hands.

My wife answered the door.

It was a neighbor.

“May I use your phone for a 911 call?”

“Of Course!” 

And they both trailed back into the kitchen dining area.

That phone is a very valuable antique.  It is a blue Princess phone from the days when there were still phone cops.  We keep it prominently displayed on the window sill of the window looking out of our kitchen eating area at the next door neighbor’s fence.  The cord is just long enough to reach over to our massive mahogany plank dining table.  That makes it possible to put the phone on the dining table.  With the phone on the dining table one can sit in one of the dining chairs (actually they are part of the outdoor teak table and chair set but the wind precludes sitting out much so that table and those chairs have migrated indoors).  Having that table indoors allows it to be used for piling, sorting and categorizing magazines; and the chairs can be used as dining chairs.  Having those chairs inside and deployable as dining chairs makes it possible to put off the decision of what the correct type of dining chairs might need to be.

And that sort of suspension of decision is always a good thing. 

Anyway, all of these things – the chairs, the phone, the piles of magazines – are part of an intricate sort of habitat that we are creating for ourselves here on the island.

There are many parallel other components of that habitat.

To mention one: the phone is seldom if ever put on the dining table with its attendant dining chair (or outdoor chair to be completely accurate) allowing an office like configuration of phone, chair and table.  Instead, the phone is usually used from its accustomed place on the window sill.  That makes it possible, makes it likely, really, that in the course of using the thing it will be pulled off onto the carpet with a slightly muffled ring and crash. 

That keeps things like long distance calls short and keeps the phone bill down.

But anyway.

Our neighbor headed for the phone.  I said “good morning”.  He dialed the phone.  My wife said “may I ask what is the emergency?”  Our neighbor said “just listen to what I say to 911and you will discover this.”  I wondered if the guy was an IT Professional.

He told 911 that there was an eagle with a broken wing at an address which he gave them.  He listened to whatever it was that 911 responded with and then said that he needed somebody to come out and get the eagle.  He listened again and then said “great” or something to that effect and hung up. Then he turned to talk to us.  The phone fell to the floor with a muffled ring and crash.  I scooped it up and put it back on the sill.

Valuable antiques such as that Princess phone need that sort of immediate attention.

“Its up there” he said pointing in the direction of our vegetable garden.

We responded with some information about Ollie.  We asked a few questions trying to zoom in on the likelihood of the eagle with the broken wing being Ollie.  We both hoped it was Ollie, because an eagle with a broken wing could perhaps be caught and nursed back to health.  An eagle with two functioning wings was well nigh impossible to catch.  The likelihood of it being Ollie was indeterminate based on what our neighbor was able to tell us about the eagle he had seen and called 911 about. 

Our neighbor thanked us for use of the phone and took his leave.

A series of related phone calls, initiated by us, ensued over the next 15 minutes.  The upshot of those conversations was that there was no way in hell that 911 was going to send anyone out to catch an injured eagle.  One of the people we talked to did call some agency who would do that sort of thing but we were totally unclear as to when such a visit might occur.  In the meantime, Ollie, or some other eagle that was on the lawn just above our vegetable garden was at the mercy of the all the caprices the neighborhood could conjure.

One of those caprices could have been another neighbor’s dog. 

That dog lives a quarter mile away or so.  The dog takes off frequently from his quarter mile away home and races joyfully, barking gaily down to where our neighbor’s lawn, just above our vegetable garden, is.  I have been there several times in the garden or in our driveway as he has arrived from his slightly distant home. 

Invariably the scene is the same.

He stops. 

He takes a look at me. 

He starts barking frantically, making half hearted lunges in my direction.

I am in no way threatened by this. 

Nor am I in any way endangered. 

I am, however, consistently annoyed to the core of my being by this behavior. 

To cap it off, the dog’s master stands a quarter mile away shouting for the dog to return. 

The dog pays no attention.

My wife and I looked at each other.  “What if that dog gets out?” we could hear each other’s minds and hearts saying.

So she went up as quickly as possible to take up a vigil and hope to fend off any attacks by the quarter mile away canine projectile.  I followed as soon as I could get my camera out.

As I approached, my wife was above the eagle on the edge of our driveway.  She was kneeling in the grass watching.  I stopped substantially below her on the driveway.  I turned on the camera and started taking pictures. 

The eagle got nervous. 

The eagle raised his wings up and down a couple of times.

The eagle raised his wings one more time and flew off.

So much for the broken wing. 

He headed south as he broached the beach.  Just as he had passed south out of sight an immature eagle appeared and followed him south.

I couldn’t tell if the eagle on the lawn above our vegetable garden was Ollie.  I didn’t, and don’t, think that this one looked like the emaciated skeleton I had taken a video of the day before. So is it Ollie getting better from his malady?  Or is it an additional sick eagle?

What do you think?

sick eagle 062311 00005

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ollie the Eagle

Our Island has quite a number of eagles. Some of them may be golden eagles. Or they may be immature bald eagles. There are a lot of bald eagles. We have three that live somewhere near us. At dawn all three play top gun out over the water and back over our studio. There is a fourth that sometimes appears with the three. That is one that is almost certainly an immature bald eagle. That one has changed since I first saw it late last year from an all dark black-brown bird to a bird with some white beginning to show. It is apparently going through a molt from its baby colors to its adult colors.

So eagles are kind of a big deal in our lives here on the north side of the island. I have ridden my bike around enough of the island to know that there are a great many other eagles here in addition to “ours”. There are enough to – probably – cause the residents of the rest of the island to feel the same: “what a big deal to have bald eagles all around us”.

So when one of these eagles – not one of the three plus the juvenile that live near us, but one that must be part of a tribe down the beach a little to the south of us – came up with a broken leg, we were pretty unhappy about it. I’m sure the rest of the island would share that unhappiness if they knew about it. Maybe this blog post will let them know about it.

I doubt that it will because nobody reads this blog.

In any event, what started as a sad likelihood – people here don’t often get the facts wrong, but since we hadn’t actually seen the crippled bird we could hold out hope that the word of mouth that there was an eagle with a broken leg was only a rumor – became, for us, a grim fact the day we first saw it for ourselves.

My partner and one of our neighbors walked down the beach looking for the bird a day or two before I had come back to the island from town. The still hoped-to-be-rumor had indicated that the bird was living on the ground in the driftwood some distance down the beach from our habitation.

Unfortunately those two saw the bird. It had enough strength to fly up into a tree immediately off the beach behind where it had been sitting, but it hadn’t enough strength to go any farther. And they could see that it was dragging a leg as it flew.

When I got to the island a day later one of the first things we did was walk down the beach to see if Ollie – we had named him by then – was still in that general vicinity.

He was.

And he didn’t look good.

And I am posting a short movie I took of him.

And there is more to the story.

And it is still unfolding.

So stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Desolation Row

Somewhere on a reel to reel tape I have a copy of Highway 61 Revisited

I had borrowed the album from a friend.  I was in Saigon.  I had recorded it on my Sony reel to reel.  I had been in Saigon, was in Saigon, and as far as I could tell, was always going to be in Saigon (the Israelis picked my time in the “war effort” to start a war with Egypt and geopolitics, being what it always is, I was pretty sure that I would be trapped in Vietnam for the duration of my life) and I had not, at the point of the commencement of this little story, gotten “used to it”.

In fact I hated everything about America and its “war effort”.

I had not volunteered for Vietnam .  However the career military – I was career civilian -  uniformly did volunteer.  “It’s not much of a war, but it’s the only one we’ve got”.  I heard that so many times that I just wanted to puke.

But, not having been a volunteer, I had had some fairly deep feelings about Vietnam.

Here is a quote from a book I once wrote:

“I hadn’t volunteered for Vietnam. If one had any aspirations for an Air Force career, one put in one’s personnel records that one volunteered for Vietnam service as soon as possible. In my case that addition to my records would have occurred at Cannon. I hadn’t thought that I had any career aspirations, although even if I had I wouldn’t have volunteered. Volunteering looked too much like tempting fate. Besides, being in the military had meant that going to Vietnam was inevitable.

Having passed through the gate from civilian life to the military life had changed at some levels my pre-military perspectives. The inevitability of Vietnamese service wasn’t a problem for me; it wasn’t something that I felt burdened with; it wasn’t something that I had any inclination to try to avoid. I just didn’t think tempting fate made any sense.

My father had fought in the final stages of World War Two in Czechoslovakia. And millions of other Americans had also fought in various parts of the world starting in 1941, or before in the case of those who had joined RAF. And the world was different than it would have been if they had not fought, and I really believed that the world was a vastly better place as a result of their fighting than it would have been if they hadn’t fought. I really believed that it was my turn. I would have preferred to have had a world free of the obligation to go fight somewhere – a world where I could have continued singing and telling jokes with Joe and Dave in a youthful attempt at trying to be something that I had dreamed of for years - but that wasn’t the way the world was. It was clearly my turn. And once the wheels had turned in whatever way they were going to turn and I had gotten my orders to go I would go with, fear, yes, but shored by the certainty and the belief that nothing could abrogate the debt I owed to my father and his generation. The thing I had only begun to have the faintest inkling of, as I looked at this sardonic, grinning, paunchy Captain - 250 pounds of man stuffed into a 190 pound pair of khaki 1505s - was that this war might be different. This war might be an option, or, worse, a mistake. This war might have no real purpose. It didn’t seem to have had any real beginning and it might never have any real end. It just might be, had been, was and always would be. In Latin that description would have sounded like a prayer we Catholics called an ejaculation.”

The Captain referenced – I dubbed him Captain Cochon – was an officer who was lurking at a significant choke point of my “processing in” to Vietnam.  He was the person who, I thought, was going to tell me the threat to my country reason that I had packed my bags, left my wife, left my children, left my friends, left everything – really – to go join the war effort.  What he said was “well. we’ll see if we can’t find something for you to do”.

I snapped.

I never have never un-snapped completely. 

But as sometimes happens, I had, in the current issue of my life, done something that had something to do with that boring and sad old past: just recently I  bought Highway 61 Revisited  on iTunes.  And it was a Proustian moment when I played it for the first time. 

But it wasn’t until it got to Desolation Row that I remembered, on a level that is hard to describe, the hate that I had felt, and still do feel , for the people who had been in charge of that fiasco we call now the Vietnam War.  Of all of Bob Dylan’s songs, for me, at least, Desolation Row says more than I would have thought to been possible to say about a system that is so phony it needs a form of  vermin that we know as lobbyists.