Sitting upstairs in meditation this morning, I asked God for a sign that could guide me through these heart wrenching days. Grief has overwhelmed me this week. I mourn the election of a man who, if he stands for anything, sides with the powerful, moneyed interests and scorns the kinder, gentler nature of our society. All week, forest fires have ravaged my beloved section of the world—many of them started by arsonists. I am grief stricken over the deaths of the helpless wildlife and their habitat. Daily the destruction grows around me. I want to do something to help on all these fronts. I keep saying, “someone has to protect the unprotected. We can’t count on the government to do it anymore.” But what can I do? Me, a soft-spoken southern woman in her sixties, who has always avoided controversy and expected others to take the lead in doing what needs to be done.
My reverie was broken when a flash of black and white sped past my window. I ran to the window in time to see the largest Bald Eagle I have ever seen land on the limb of a tree overlooking the pond. Witnessing such a rare sight surely was the sign I had asked for, but what did it mean? I stood glued to the window, hardly breathing, eager to see what would happen next. A few minutes later, the eagle crossed from one side of the pond to a perch near me. My initial thrill at witnessing this rare visitation began to melt into horror as I realized the eagle was stalking a prey. I was afraid to look, afraid to witness a death right before my terrified eyes but, for once, I couldn’t look away.
A pale, female Great Blue Heron stood alone on the diving platform in the middle of the lake, its head held high. On the eagle’s next pass, he swooped toward her, his razor sharp talons missing her by inches. The heron ducked her head but otherwise stood stock still, seeming to ignore the menace, as the eagle passed to the other side of the lake. I wondered why the heron didn’t fly away out of harm’s way, but then realized that she couldn’t. Her slow lift off would expose her to the swift and deadly eagle.
So she stood there alone as the eagle took another pass at her, but again it missed by inches. When he landed on the ground across the lake from my viewing point, I hoped this meant he was giving up on his harassment, but in fact, he was moving in for the kill. From his lower position, he shot straight at her like an arrow. The heron side-stepped just enough to escape the eagle’s clutches, but it was clear that she couldn’t fight him off for long.
I ran outside, grabbed a pole and flew down the stairs just as the force of the eagle’s next pass knocked the heron into the water. Somehow she stayed afloat by flapping her wings and extending her neck onto the top of the platform like a steadying arm. The eagle stood over her, poised to snap her neck. By then I was running toward them waving the pole and screaming. My fear of “getting involved” had completely vanished. The eagle spied me and leapt into the air. It arced up over the lake and a second later, soared away through the rhododendron tunnel that sheltered the creek. The eagle never looked back as it moved on to find its next meal (surely not far away for its strength and size were so mighty that few creatures could prevail against it).
Of course, the eagle had to eat. I wanted it to survive too, but in my own smoke-sodden mind, I just could not witness such a brutal act today. At least for today, in this small way, I could save a life. I could protect the unprotected.
As the eagle’s shadow passed over the creek, the heron managed to scramble up onto the diving platform. Then just as quickly, it lifted off again in my direction to stand erectly on the shore facing me. For a moment our eyes met. As unbelievable as it may sound, I swear I saw gratefulness in her eyes.
I turned and walked inside. Later, online, I volunteered to attend a workshop for those who want to get involved locally in environmental issues. I joined the local land trust, and I made a donation in memory of the disappearing forest. I thought of the prediction Pete Seeger made on his 90th birthday: “I think the world is going to be saved by millions of small things.”
Maybe—just maybe—he is right.