Eagle Stares at the Sun

Eagle was flying high. It was the longest day, and hot columns of air were rising over the Bay into a cloudless sky, boosting Eagle to fabulous heights. Eagle scanned the air and waters below for a free lunch.

You see, Eagle may be the highest flying, keenest sighted, most magnificent raptor in the whole Sagadahoc, but he’s just a little lazy, and a bit of a thief. He’d much rather let Osprey do all the hunting, diving again and again on the flickering flash of fish – and then steal Osprey’s catch.

Eagle circled on high, his great wings spread and his pinion feathers twiddling in the breeze. Osprey was down there now, working the rips off the end of The Sands. Eagle spied luscious migrant stripers struggling against the current. His mouth watered as he waited for Osprey to grab one.

It had been a fine Spring for Eagle. He and his partner mended their old nest on Bluff Head without much ado, although there had be a slight fuss over whether or not to weave that deflated mylar balloons into the stickwork. The silver and blue was a nice touch, but the tinny flash was a bit much, he thought. She’s laid her eggs just after ice-out, and there had been a good run of spring feed while they were brooding. It hadn’t rained too too much, just enough to flush the bedding. Before Eagle knew it two fine nestlings had fledged. Now the kids were winging around the neighborhood, hulking great things, making sharp inroads in the summer tribes of fish.

Now Eagle could soar to splendid heights and not be bothered with all the petty demands of fatherhood. Eagle wasn’t much for sentiment, in any case. All the gush and golly of lesser creatures was beneath his dignity. Eagle chose to rise above trivial emotions. He knew he was chosen to fly higher, and see more clearly than ordinary folk, with their mushy sentimentality.

Eagle saw Osprey fold his wings and plummet into the tide stream. Osprey snagged a fine fat striper. He struggled to get airborne and shake the water off. Looked like a sweet treat for Eagle. He winged over and dove on Osprey.

Osprey was beating wings hard for the Chops Point woods, the striper writhing in his talons, but he didn’t stand a chance against Eagle. The big raptor could out-fly Osprey two beats to four, and he was over Osprey before you could sing me daddy A to the bar. Osprey tried to dodge, but eagle fell on him screaming, hooked beak and talons spread wide. Osprey dropped his lunch, and Eagle snatched it out of the air. Osprey yelled angry insults at the big bully, but Eagle just shrugged and beat his way slowly to the nearest pine snag.

“That’s the way it goes,” Eagle thought, “survival of the fittest, and all that.”

Eagle did a lot of thinking. Perched high in a blasted tree beside the Bay, watching the waters flow, or riding the thermals with the landscape spread below him. His eagle eyes saw the comings and goings of the other creatures. Fingerling alewives teeming in the sunny lees of the islands, and jetskis racing for the lower Kennebec. Plumes of sediment feathering over the bars of the Androscoggin, and the squabbling gabble of gulls on the end of The Sands. Wild rice bending in waves to the summer breeze, and the Navy P-3s rounding up widdershins to land at the Air Station. Swallows swirling and swooping off the end of Centers Point, and a scow full of Artists anchored beside Brick Island, busily capturing the scene. Eagle saw the big picture, and pondered on the ineffable. He knew it was his place to look down on the world. Eagle threw back his head and screamed.

Eagle had heard tales that men esteemed him above all other birds: making golden images of him to carry on tall poles, tying flags to the poles to shake in the wind like his wings, and shooting fireworks high in the sky to honor his glory. This was only fitting and proper, Eagle thought. If the tales were true, men must be wiser than their behavior would indicate. And right now two women in kayaks were passing below him, looking up in admiration. Eagle threw back his head and screamed.

The striper was sweet, the air was warm, and Eagle was quite satisfied with himself. Still there was one thought that niggled at Eagle, clouding his self-satisfaction.

What about the Sun? That stuck-up spheroid looked down on Eagle. Day after day. Way up there. Never saying a word. Too aloof to come visit. Who did he think he was? Even the men in their flying machines honored Eagle for his nobility. But the Sun just sailed overhead, ignoring Eagle. The more he though about it, the more infuriated Eagle got. Eagle threw back his head and screamed.

It was high noon now, and that rude Sun had swallowed all the shade. The Artists were splashing about in the water, trying to stay cool, and the more sensible creatures were taking a nooner. Even the wind had let up for a spell. Eagle finished his lunch and wiped his beak on his leg feathers. He usually had a little doze about now, but the thought of that superior Sun, flying up there so tirelessly, with never so much as a howdy-do, was insufferable. Eagle threw back his head and screamed.

It was just too much. Eagle decided he would fly up to that smartass Sun and have a few words about simple courtesy and R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Eagle dropped off his perch and beat his big wings slowly in the breathless heat.

Out over the Bay it was cooler, but the air had no lift. It wasn’t until Eagle got over Brick Island that he caught a thermal, and started to spiral up the sky. Higher and higher Eagle soared. Eagle threw back his head and screamed.

The Artists looked up to see Eagle circling toward the Sun. Suddenly he disappeared into the blazing dazzle, and they had to look away. Eagle was made of sterner stuff. He kept watching the Sun. But each time he looked at the Sun it seemed to be flying higher. As if it didn’t deign to converse with Eagle. No matter how high the great raptor soared, the Sun rose higher. Eagle was quite angry now, at being scorned. But he prided himself on being a rational bird, unexcitable, really. He wasn’t being emotional. This was a simple matter of proper behavior, and the Sun was being unconscionably rude. If Eagle had to shout at the Sun, it was for his own good. Eagle threw back his head and screamed.

Eagle decided the only way to bring this errant orb to heel was to stare him down. Nobody could outstare Eagle, and manys the lesser creature had had to cringe and cower when Eagle gave them the eye. If the Sun was too foolish to show him respect, that was his own lookout. Now Eagle would stare down the Sun. Eagle threw back his head and screamed.

Eagle stared at the Sun. And stared. And stared. But that oblivious orb sailed on across the sky. Eagle was muttering to himself now.

“You see, don’t you Mr. Sun? You can’t stand it, can you? Pretty soon you’ll have to blink and recognize your betters, won’t you.”

But the Sun stared on. And Eagle’s eyes began to hurt. At first Eagle could see blue sky all around the Sun, but soon all he could see was the Sun’s dazzling circle of light. Then Eagle started to see other colors. Reds and pinks and purples. Eagle’s eyes were full of tears, and he wondered what that was all about. Eagle threw back his head and screamed.

Then, for just an instant, Eagle looked away. Not really breaking his stare, you understand – and the World was gone. Eagle’s eyes flicked back to lock on the Sun again, and the Sun was gone, too. Or it was everywhere. Eagle’s eyes were full of blinding light. In fact, Eagle had gone blind. Eagle threw back his head and screamed.

The rest of Eagle’s day was a nightmare. The colored lights in his eyes went from one end of the rainbow to the other, then slowly darkened, until all Eagle saw was black. He started slowly to spiral down the sky. Eagle could feel the wind under his wings, and hear the P-3s circling, but he couldn’t tell how high he was, or where he was coming down. Slowly he circled, listening for the least hint of his position. He finally heard a pair of jetskis circle-jumping their wakes, and guessed they were in the turmoil of Chops, as usual. So he gave them a wide berth. Eagle didn’t want to tangle with the power lines crossing the Kennebec there.

Eagle tried to work out his position by dead reckoning, but he was so used to flying VFR that he was rusty on the fine points of instrument flying. Luckily the afternoon breeze was coming up out of the southwest. Eagle could smell the smutch from up-along, and by quartering into it he hoped he’d strike on Brick Island or Centers Point.

Eagle tried to stay high enough over the choppy water he could hear below, so’s not to slam into a tree. And, as it happened, those Artists had finished their lunch and were making music on their boat. Giovanni de Basso had the whole crew doing modal rounds, and Eagle homed in on the mixolidian. He suddenly heard the wind sighing in a big pine, back-peddled wildly, and made a crash landing in the tree top. Eagle grabbed a limb with his talons, and hung on for dear life. Eagle wanted to scream, but he was too stunned to make a sound.

Eagle clung to that branch all afternoon. He heard the Artists pack up and sail off. He could tell the tide had turned by the way the current burbled off the end of the island. He heard a mob of crows harrying something over to the mainland. An errant bee zinged past.

Eagle did a lot of thinking. After he recovered from the fright of flying blind, of being blind, Eagle got angry at how the Sun had stared him down. He mauled the limb he was on with his talons in spite. But he calmed down after a spell. Then Eagle felt sorry for himself. The Sun had abused him, he figured. It wasn’t fair to blind a bird who was just trying to be neighborly. But Eagle got tired of self-pity, after moaning to himself a while.

Now Eagle is a smart bird, if a little vain. By late afternoon he was beginning to sus out that he’d been just a bit too smart. And maybe a schosh too proud. Smart enough to do himself a hurt, anyway – trying to outstare the Sun. Eagle was facing into the last of the afternoon breeze, his eyes still running with tears, when the dragonflies found him.

Two glittering blue darning needles, they were rattling the air around Eagle’s big pine, darting in and out of the shadows, when they spotted him. Eagle never paid any heed to dragonflies before. They were too hard to catch, and not worth eating if you did, and their rattling round was only a nuisance at nap time, if anything. Pretty enough, in a flashy way, but much too ephemeral for an Eagle to notice. And they had never been this close to Eagle before, because his piercing stare had always intimidated them.

This time, somehow, the dragonflies knew Eagle was harmless. Maybe even in trouble. Maybe it was the way Eagle was hunkered on that limb, or his empty gaze. The glittering blue dragonflies approached Eagle as the Sun was going down.

“Good evening, Mr. Eagle,” one of the dragonflies said.

Eagle was going to tell them to buzz off when he realized he really wanted to speak to someone. Even a dragonfly. Eagle made a slight croak, then cleared his throat. But he wasn’t used to conversing with lesser creatures. Eagle didn’t know how to begin.

“Are you OK?” the second dragonfly asked, sensing Eagle’s difficulty.

“Of course,” Eagle snapped sharply, “or.. um .. well.. not exactly,” he stammered. There was a long pause. Eagle heard the cellophane rustling of the dragonflies’ wings hovering near at hand.

“I’ve gone blind,” Eagle finally said, in a quiet voice.

“That’s terrible,” the first dragonfly sympathized. “Can we help you?"

Well, the long and the short of it was: the two dragonflies escorted Eagle across the Bay to Bluff Head. They shouted “Left! Left!” or “Up! Up! Higher!” when necessary, and talked him down into his nest without mishap.

Eagle awkwardly tried to thank them. He wasn’t used to giving, or receiving kindness or simple generosity, and he didn’t really know what to say or do. That didn’t seem to matter to the dragonflies. They giggled a bit, embarrassed at an eagle thanking them, and they rushed off as soon as they saw Eagle safely settled in. They didn’t seem to want to sneer at him, or impress him, or anything.

When Eagle’s partner swooped in just at dusk, she, too, was unusually sympathetic. She even went out and grabbed him an inattentive field mouse when she heard he was hungry. Everything Eagle thought he knew about animal relations was coming unglued. Eagle fell asleep all muddled.

Eagle sat blind on the nest for three days before he began to see again. His partner brought him rare treats. The dragonflies came to visit, and even brought a bumblebee along, with whom they sang three part harmony and did an elaborate flying dance. (Eagle didn’t understand the half of it, but he made polite noises after it was over.) Most astonishing, Eagle’s fledged offspring brought him a big eel from upriver, and a mess of juicy pogies from down the islands. When Eagle’s vision finally cleared on the fifth day he was a very different bird.

Well, not entirely different. Eagle still likes to bully Osprey, and he still screams a lot – but now Eagle recognizes the other creatures as co-conspirators in the bigger plot. He’s not always quite so sure he knows everything. And Eagle is always willing to stop and palaver with the dragonflies. He’s even come to admire the way the sunlight shines through their blue winds, and to appreciate their aerial choreography.

Which is why you can see Eagle sitting quietly when the dragonflies are flittering around him. And why we shouldn’t get too smart, or fly too high.