Same job, different uniform.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Joy Unspeakable

Responding to an invitation I spent Saturday afternoon driving two three year olds and an infant (we followed a young friend of mine, herself towing two 12 year olds and her infant son--and in a matching Toyota Sienna no less. Living it up in suburbia!) out to the beautiful Sand Lake Wildlife Refuge for "Blue Goose Weekend."

The event is traditionally called Eagle Day and occurs in the spring, but after the region experienced flooding for three years in a row, Fish and Wildlife moved the event to the fall. In a sad reversal, a very dry summer followed an uncharacteristically mild winter and huge swaths of Sand Lake are giant dust bowls.

Not sure what to expect, I was relieved to see a wading pool with turtles and fresh water mollusks for the kids to touch. For them not to touch was a snapping turtle in the adjacent pool. He was aggressively trying to get out of his makeshift cage. "What does he eat?" I asked. "Anything that gets in his mouth, pretty much" was the chilling answer.
After a few minutes of looking at native fish on display and touching turtles, we heard an announcement that there would be a release of Golden Eagles into the wild.

The crowd moved as one nearer to the Lake's edge. From the back of a yellow SUV, a bearded man and this lovely, serious-looking woman removed the first Eagle. I am still amazed at how without any kind of protective clothing or gloves she was able to safely maneuver the bird out of the box and keep it in her arms. Take a look.

As she moved slowly along the length of the semi-circle she extended one of the wings. The children, without too much noise, stepped forward and stroked in reverential awe.  Finally she asked everyone to move away, and we waited.

I was unprepared for the emotional response that the release of that noble bird elicited from me. Without warning there was a lump in my throat. In a moment I knew viscerally the meaning of a word that had so far been only a word: transfixed. Even as I type this, I can't say I remember holding my daughter or knowing that my son was sitting near me on the ground. 

For the better part of a day and a half I've been asking myself where all that joy came from. I may have an unusual love of birds and I've seen many raptors, but what made that moment so special?  Truthfully I think I'd rather remember and enjoy than understand, but perhaps that's because understanding is so difficult. 

In addition to the obvious, namely that I was within five feet of a bird we never get to see up close if at all, I think it had something to do with sharing with others a rare glimpse at Perfection. The emotion was palatable as the Eagle, once injured and interned and now free, reverted to its inspired instinct, knowing instantly that it was at liberty to do what it was created to do. Scattered applause from others told me that they were feeling the same. A man's voice somewhere near said, "Be free."  I suspect we wanted to fly away too.

And the human person had done it. We were at our best as we rescued, healed and released. There was no violence, no grandstanding. Everything was as it should be. Maybe we knew it and rejoiced.

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