Six Eagles – A short story

 

I have been to the end of the earth

I have been to the end of the waters

I have been to the end of the sky

I have been to end of the mountains

I have found none that are not my friends

      ~ Navajo proverb

 

Jamie tugged on Leia’s leash to coax her off the neighbour’s lush green grass back on to the sidewalk. Jamie didn’t want her taking her morning pee on Bill’s lawn. Even though Bill liked chocolate labs he’d be sure to complain about the circles of dead grass her early morning visits might leave. Bill was sitting on his porch sipping his morning coffee. The steam rising from the cup despite the morning heat. He looked up, nodded. Jamie knew it wasn’t merely a good morning nod. It was also a thank you for not letting Leia pee on his grass.

Apart from the cooing of the mourning doves, the serenading of the resident robins, and one bright red cardinal singing away at the top of a maple tree, there wasn’t a sound to be heard.

Jamie lived, alone now, in this subdivision on the city limits.

His phone vibrated in the lower front pocket of his walking shorts. He didn’t want to speak to anyone. Jamie recognized the Springsteen ringtone, The Rising, as it followed the initial vibration. It was his son, Sean, calling, likely to check in on him. Regardless of when Sean would call, he would always be sure to answer. He’d even cut a shower short to run to the phone when he would hear Sean’s ringtone. They were business partners, but more important, they were close as father and son.

On this morning. He didn’t want to take Sean’s call.

He wanted to be alone.

He didn’t want anyone asking how he was doing.

He needed an uninterrupted walk with his dog.

He always watched in awe as Leia smelled every blade of grass, tried to be petted by every person who walked by. Her nose sniffing away with the vigor and excitement of being outside.

On this morning, it was important he soak it all in.

He didn’t answer Sean’s call. He continued on his walk, trying to enjoy it. Despite everything these walks always meant to him, this one seemed empty.

The sudden COVID illness and unexpected death of his wife, Sarah, a month earlier from respiratory complications had taken a toll on him.

They dealt with Sarah’s COVID symptoms from home with several visits to their family physician, followed by a few more to the hospital in the first few weeks, and then, she developed severe respiratory issues. She was rushed to the hospital and put on a ventilator within hours.

Five days later she passed.

Jamie was fifty-eight. Fairly healthy, just a few minor typical aging issues. Sarah was two years younger. She too had a few minor health issues, but nothing major. They were both about to receive their second COVID vaccine shots when Sarah tested positive.

Jamie’s pocket vibrated again. This time it was the text vibration. No danger of being obligated to speak to anyone. He pulled out his phone to read the text.

It was from Sean. “Please call me ASAP. Urgent. Work related.”

Sean and Jamie owned a renovation company that had been in the family for four generations. The plan was to pass it down to Sean’s children. Jamie was semi-retired, trying to work only ten to fifteen hours a week as he helped Sean run the company. Jamie had been looking forward to joining Sarah as a full-time retiree.

He called Sean.

“Hey Dad, you need to come to the Lewis job site right away. The walls we put up yesterday for the new sunroom collapsed. No one is hurt, but the owners want you on site. You’re an expert at smoothing things over. It will help a lot if you come.”

“No problem. I’m on a walk with Leia. I’ll turn around, get cleaned up a bit and head out to the site in about ten minutes.”

“Thanks Dad. Drive carefully. Love you.”

“I love you too. See you soon.”

As Jamie pulled out of his driveway, in his white Honda Ridgeline truck, he didn’t see the oncoming car. Luckily, the car saw him and gave a short light neighbourly honk. Jamie felt his heart race. He took a deep breath, let the car pass, then pulled out slowly, reminding himself to drive carefully.

He had two options for the drive to the site. He could cut in towards the city and take the expressway to save ten minutes, or he could take the back roads through the picturesque countryside he loved. On most days, if he was rushed, he might have chosen the expressway. But today, he wanted to enjoy the peaceful ride of the back roads, even though he should be trying to get to the site as soon as possible.

He and Sarah bought the property on the outskirts of the city because Jamie loved to be able to go for bicycle rides in the countryside. He’d carry his SLR camera mounted on a special bracket under the crossbar. He often stopped to take shots of flowers, animals, and birds. He loved posting them on Instagram, especially the birds.

He was just a few kilometers from his house, heading down a country road with large maple, oak, and pine trees along the edges leading into a dense forest on both sides. The smell of the lilacs lining the ditches’ edge filled the air. Up ahead, at the crest of a hill, he saw a small carcass in the middle of the road, a bird. By its size and dark colour, he suspected it was likely a turkey vulture. They were always picking at road kill. It was not surprising when they would end up as one.

As his car came to the crest of the hill, he could tell it wasn’t a vulture. The talons were too big and the head was too large, and not the usually bald red. The feathers were brown, not black.

He slowed down, almost to a complete stop. He could hear the sticky mushiness of the hot pavement already well heated by the morning sun. He peered over his open side window to get a better look.

It was a golden eagle.

It was as if all the air from his lungs gushed out. He gasped. Into the depth of his chest flowed a deep sadness. An ache filled his stomach.  

He wanted to pull over. There was a pool of blood. The eagle wasn’t moving.

It was dead.

There was nothing he could do. He had to meet Sean on site. He kept driving.

As he drove on, he couldn’t lose the image of it laying in the middle of the road. Its beautiful brown layered feathers.

Alone.

Now it would be food for vultures.

It was too majestic a bird. He couldn’t leave it. It deserved better.

He started to slow down to turn around. He told himself he couldn’t take the time to turn around. He had committed to Sean he’d be there soon. He couldn’t turn back. He sped up again.

Still unable to shake the picture of the eagle from his mind, he thought it was his duty, as a so-called nature lover, to turn back and do something for the bird. This was a good opportunity to redeem himself for earlier years of not appreciating nature or doing more to respect it.

No. He told himself. It’s dead.

One of Jamie’s connections to nature was his belief we are all God’s creations, and so, we were to steward the earth, to always try to do what was right. This eagle was also God’s creation. Jamie thought maybe God was inspiring him to turn around and at least move the bird off the middle of the road. Maybe bury it in the woods. Give it some type of dignified end.

No, he told himself it was just his imagination playing games. God wasn’t inspiring him or asking him to do anything.

He kept driving.

Suddenly, he stopped his truck. Did a three-point turn and headed back.

“You happy? I hear you. I’m turning around. Point taken.”

He had travelled less than a kilometer from the bird. He didn’t have to drive back very far. He pulled off to the side of the road at the crest of the hill, before the eagle. He put his hazard lights on and walked slowly towards the bird. He could see the vultures circling in the clear blue sky and hear their calls.

He knelt down beside the eagle, resting his knee on the hot pavement momentarily. Too hot.

The light brown feathers on its head gradually transitioned to darker brown and larger feathers on its body and wings. The feather pattern looked like large scales on a fish. There were a few small white feathers scattered throughout, some white tail feathers, and tiny white fluffy feathers crowned the talons. It was definitely a golden eagle.

Blood had flowed from the back of its head onto the pavement. He was thankful no other vehicles had run over it yet. He put his hand next to the talons to get a sense of their size. They were about the same length as his open hand. The talons were a rough lizard skin like texture. They were yellow with scatterings of whitish areas mixed in. Three large digits pointed forward with one large rear digit, we’d call a thumb. All four digits with large black nails that came to a sharp point. He pictured them snatching fiercely into a large rainbow trout at the end of long gracious dive.

He considered going back to his car to get his phone to take a picture. He didn’t. He didn’t want it to end up being one of his social media posts. He wanted this moment to have dignity. This was sacred.

He gently and firmly grabbed the eagle by the talons and carried it down over a damp ditch through the lilacs into the forest some twenty meters from the road. He laid it down in a hollow area. The scent of lilacs had followed them in. He knelt down on one knee beside it. His eyes watered. There was an overwhelming sense of peace. He thanked the Creator for this beautiful creature.

“Hey, my eagle friend. I’m sorry your life ended this way. I hope you were able to have some good years. That you enjoyed catching fish in the many lakes around us. That you reveled soaring through the skies high above us. I don’t know what the afterlife looks like for you. I pray it’s a good one. That you can soar with your ancestors again. I pray you travel in peace with many other eagles. I wish you well as you head towards your eternal home.”

He thought about taking a tail feather, but didn’t want to disrespect this majestic creature. He knew indigenous people had eagle feathers, but because he wasn’t sure of a respectful way one might be removed, he decided not to. He took a few moments to look at the eagle, to think of how beautiful it must have been to see it soar, to see it dive at full speed to a lake and snag an unsuspecting fish with its talons.

He gathered a few fallen pine branches and laid them over the eagle, did the sign of the cross over the bird, wiped a few tears from his eyes, and walked back towards the road. The pine straw crackled below his feet.

The pool of blood was a two-foot circle around where the eagle had laid. He had given the eagle a burial. He was happy about that. But he didn’t feel good about its blood being left on the road, to eventually be red tire strips. He thought, even its blood deserved better. He had a box of rags in the back of his truck. He went to get a few and a plastic bag to put them in, and then he’d bring them back to rest with the eagle.

He was soaking the scarlet blood up when suddenly.

Everything went black.

A terrified young man in a skidding black F-150 pulled off to the side of the road. Looked back at Jamie laying head towards him with his cheek pressed into the road.

Blood was already pooling at Jamie’s head. Rays of sun gleaming off the red molten like liquid. The driver was frozen in place.

He got out of his truck, took a few steps from his truck towards Jamie’s body. Stopped before getting too close. Looked around. Pulled his hands up behind his head, locked them in place, bent his head forward, and shook it back and forth. Screamed. He took a few more steps towards Jamie. Looked around again. Ran to the body. Tried to find a pulse. Couldn’t.

He ran back to the front of his truck. There was a dent in the grill with drops of blood slowly falling. A small torn fragment of Jamie’s orange shirt hung from the bumper. He ran back towards Jamie. Stopped before getting to him. Looked around again.

Got back in his truck. Drove away.

There wasn’t a vehicular sound to be heard. The songbirds were chirping away as they had been all morning.

The sun continued to shine onto the pool of blood and the hot pavement.

Suddenly the blackness went away.

Jamie could see himself lying in the middle of the road. He saw the skid marks after his body. A pool of blood, now a mixture of Jamie’s and the eagle’s. It’s as if he was hovering a dozen feet from his own body. He should have been terrified at what he saw. He wasn’t.

He was at peace. There was a sense of peace he had never felt before. A sense of wholeness that was unknown to him. Though he could see he wasn’t whole. He knew he was dead. He couldn’t understand what was happening.

The hovering moved towards his still body, taking him to it. Then he was back inside his body, or so it seemed. He was confused. He was looking through the eyes of his dead body as they lay open. His head lay sideways. His right eye partially blocked by the pavement, out of focus. His left eye was staring directly at the pool of blood. He felt the sun on his face. He couldn’t move. Even so, that peace he felt, was still with him.

From the corner of his eye, he could see a shadow casting down onto him. It was getting larger. He heard what sounded like something flapping against the wind. But there was no wind.

A golden eagle landed beside him.

It stood there. Regal. Looking at him. Directly into his eye. He saw the sun’s reflection in the eagle’s eye. In it he saw several bird-like figures flying. Another eagle landed, then another, then a few more. He couldn’t see them all, but somehow, he sensed six of them. He could hear them calling. As if to signal others. There were no others coming. Then he understood what they were saying. It’s not that he could hear their voices speak. They still sounded like eagles calling out, not human voices, but there was no doubt in what they were saying.

“We’ve come to take you home.”

 

Photo Credit: Steve Authier

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