Every once in awhile, Nature has a way of reminding you just how wrong you were to humanize it. Saturday was such an example.

I was cooking dinner in the last light of the day when I heard a sound that never fails to send me running to the window: the sound of eagle calls. These were not the usual ones, the ones of play or teaching or hunting; they were loud and many, the cries of at least three birds. To the window I ran. The sounds faded to silence, their owners nowhere to be seen.

A few minutes later, more cries. This time I saw four birds behind the house. And their flight was no game. Two of them raged down on a third, striking him from above, driving him down into the water. The bird in the water struggled to take off, only to be struck again and again, a sound I could hear all the way from the top of the hill. The eagle in the water flapped, failed, and rolled over in the water to face his attackers with his talons. But the attackers were relentless, clearly intending to drown their victim.

I ran out in stocking feet, the pan on the stove forgotten, yelling and waving my arms, hoping that the distraction would buy the waterlogged eagle a few moments to get away. The downed creature was carried downstream in the current; with labored strokes of his wings, he started making his way toward the gravel bank, not swimming as much as bobbing, struggling to reach the shore. Had minimum flow been in place, he would have drowned.

I held my breath, hoping he would have the strength to make it to the bank; to avoid his attackers; to fly away. I’m not sure what I would have done if he’d been badly hurt…I’d begun to have visions of fire gloves and laundry bags and wading into the icy water. But he made it. 

He rested a moment; shook himself dry. My binos revealed no blood, an observation I can only hope was an accurate one. One of the attackers perched nearby, calling, until the grounded eagle took to the air and flew off downstream. I stood shaken and sad, yet full of wonder. A difficult gift, but an extraordinary one on a Saturday afternoon.