Friday, December 25, 2009


It is a day of threes this Christmas of 2009. As I get ready to leave for the wildlife center Christmas morning we are still fogged in, three days in a row. I like it, you can look right at the sun and not see it, only when I get a quarter mile down the road does the orb show itself while still underneath the veil.
Down the road and I see them, the three wise men, others call them crows. They are sitting side by side on a lamp post by a traffic light. I drive underneath and say “hi my brothers, stay safe.” Driving down the highway of death not an eagle in sight, they should be here somewhere but I don’t have that feeling of knowing I will see eagle brother here and that’s fine. I will see them elsewhere. Off to my right three starlings sitting on wire as I drive by. I pass a redtail hawk, I wish him happy hunting and as always to the wild ones I ask for grandfather to protect.
As I rise up from the Snoqualmie river valley the sky shows itself sapphire blue with snow capped mountains surrounding me. The joy of this day shines bright. I take the side roads to Sarvey, no use for the main roads as they are chocked with---people. As I wind down the river road that runs helter skelter, sand bars come and go yet no eagles and still no feeling they should be there. It is rare when I am wrong in anticipating the great hunters of the heavens. I round a corner and there at eye level is another redtail hawk, I can feel something coming.
I get to Sarvey Wildlife Center, drive up the hill---my friend is on her perch watching me. I wave to her. As I get out of my truck I look up---there in a 200 foot plus douglas fir is a huge female bald eagle surveying her domain. “Hey little sister good to see you.”
I head inside and get the update about Freedom. In this very cold weather she hasn’t eaten for three days, then Christmas eve day she breaks a blood feather. The blood splatter on her perch was noticed and she was brought inside to be checked. I get the word Christmas Eve, she’s fine. The next morning she ate her rat plus 350 mgs of beef heart. I go out to her flight and notice a rat tail, just the tail next to a rock. I laugh---it looks like the rock actually has a tail. I jess her up as she begins to tell all about the mean things ‘those’ people did to her. I feel her crop, she must have eaten a baseball. No turkey leg today.
We head out of her flight to the pond below. The ground is frozen, all the shrubs are hugging the ground. They crunch underfoot as we walk. When we arrive at the mostly frozen pond I see the sheared off top of the willow tree from last Christmas poking out of the middle. The water freezes and melts around it; the willow will be in that same spot for years to come, a sentinel in the water. The constant chatter of Freedom is music to me; the cold wraps itself around us. Her head jerks right and I look up---the eagles are coming, a giant female flies overhead, I smile. A few minutes later another cruises overhead with an immature one minutes behind. Three.
I look down as the elongated rays of the just-past Solstice sun shines through the bones of hibernating trees and casts its rays on the frozen stalks we stand on. Miniature diamonds glisten in the soft brilliance. I am transfixed by the sheer beauty of this pagan morning.
A little voice inside is coaxing me to turn around. I listen and do as it says. Not more than 20 feet away a devastating six point buck stares at me. He is behind the tree that has the ‘y’ trunk, peeking at us. He is magnificent. We have met before but never this close. He shows caution but doesn’t move away. This is his trail he travels to meet his girl friend Cinnamon, our resident doe.
I move slowly to the side, crunching ice crystals under my boots. He still doesn’t run as I offer him the path. He moves forward, and then backs up not quite sure about us. We are a little too close for him. His tawny hide with patch of ice white on his chest is breathtaking but that’s not what’s mesmerizing me, it was his patch of midnight black fur on his head. Looks almost like a toupee.
The stag walks a parallel line in front of us as he makes his way to the fence surrounding the deer enclosure. I watch, knowing what is coming. He heads towards us, does a 180 and heads back the way he came, stopping about thirty feet away and with the grace no human could ever hope to have, he glides over a six foot fence. clearing it by at least a foot and lands as a feather would land, not a sound, not a twitched muscle, nothing but pure grace. My flesh is crawling with goose bumps, I want to know what he knows.
A call cuts through the silence, another male farther back in the woods bellows. My friend saunters over to his female companion, they nuzzle a little and then he is into the important stuff, food. As I am watching him my focus retracts and for the first time I notice a bold Rufous sided towhee at arm’s length on the branches in front of me.
The day starts to wind down and I take Freedom back to her flight. I take her jesses off and we are done.
On the drive home I am obsessed with threes---what does it mean? Maybe nothing for I have not seen three redtail hawks, only two. All the way I scan for one more, just one more---nothing. Back to civilization and I think maybe it was me wishing for the threes. I look to my left as I approach my town and there she is---the third redtail.
I say to grandfather “Mitakuye Oyasin’

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Today I took Freedom out for a stroll down by the pond. We have to navigate fallen branches from the winter, spider webs and blackberry bushes that seem to want to take over my part of the world to get to the spot I wanted. As we’re standing there a bee comes along and lands on a leaf next to me. I watch him as he cleans his front legs, he then proceeds fold his wings in as his body visibly relaxes. I don’t ever remember see a bee kick back.
Freedom and I are standing under a gargantuan cottonwood tree with the pond twenty feet away. A slight breeze kicks up now and again, warm from the days of summer and still succulent. Freedom stretches her wings each time. The first leaf signaling the beginning of the change flutters down in front of me. I have chills, I love the fall. I watch it, greenish yellow as it melts into the rich foliage below, I knew it was a tired leaf. Then more leaves started coming down by ones and twos. I watched as they came to greet us. I leaned in and put my ear on Freedom’s chest. I could hear the rhythmic beating of her eagle heart. It moved her feathers and my skin. I marveled at how simple and beautiful this day was and yet… I am one of the few ever to do this. I stood like that content in the approaching scents of the coming change. I know how damn lucky I am.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

As I shuffled on down my favorite dusty trail just off the main drag of the three block metropolis of downtown Talkeetna Alaska; I came around the corner and stood face to face with 'the mountain', Denali, The Great One. That mountain has a hold on me, one that takes me back to the primordial before humans walked this earth. I have known this place before. I stand there feeling the ever present pull of the Great One.
I walk farther down the beach, no humans, just me, the mosquitoes, and the Arctic Terns. Perfect. Little did I know I was in for a show. I kept strolling down the river in the heart of Bear country wishing one would present itself. Bear never showed, electing to stay hidden.
I sat on a huge old log once driftwood but for the moment my chair. I reveled in the sounds at the confluence of the three rivers, felt at home with the gentle heat from the sun streaming on my face, and quite at peace...then it started... The Arctic Terns, I was in the middle of their feeding grounds. One flew at a blistering pace up the edge of the river towards me and stopped, hovering, looking at the river below him then he turned his head eyeballing me. I didn't dare move. He saddled over sideways no more than five feet from me. I could see his blazing red feet and beak, the night black cap on his head, and the blinding gray/white of his chest. He had me! In a flash he shot forward, I watched as he dove into the river for insects. I had plenty he could have, the mosquitoes were out in force and I had no bug dope on. No matter I was watching a dance of life.
Now the terns were everywhere, flying racetrack patterns over the rivers with me in the front row. They all came by closer and closer, I sat rock still in this place with no human sounds... no human sounds... say
The terns in their everyday hunt for bugs, mesmerized me and made me wish I was one of them if just for a few minutes. They are fighter jets, nimble, excruciatingly quick, and simply beautiful. They all seemed to stop where I was, one at a time, getting closer but not too close. Putting on a show of curiosity. I knew this was everyday life for them, ordinary, but for me...I wanted to fly with them badly.
I sat there on my driftwood log for hours watching the terns. A raven came by and landed on the sandbar about 50 yards off shore. The terns didn't really like raven in their place so a few went over and shared their feelings with raven. After a loud and quick to flair to violence confrontation raven decided he had other things to do.
Then the human sounds started.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Today 70 degrees, first short sleeve day of the year at Sarvey. I go to get Freedom so she and I can trample fresh grasses on our way to the pond. First we must play 'catch the eagle'. I get her riding gear from the truck and head into the flight. Freedom runs up to her large perch, acts like she's going to jump on it bobing and weaving, a head feint here, mis-direction shoulder drop there, a little fancy footwork she spins away and at the last second as I crouch down with the eagle glove on blocking her avenues of escape (conveniently leaving one open)---whoosh--- in a blur of white light she's past me, head down grinning as she runs. "I got you" she seems to be smirking as she bolts by. Now we head back up hill and into the hide away room, then and only then does she hop on her perch.

This room was made specifically so she could get away from people viewing her if she wanted to. She likes this room as a play room, she has a perch in there and only uses it when she ready to go meet her peeps.

Now I offer the glove and she happily steps up and lets me put her jesses and leash on. It's time for the walk. Off we go down the hill heading towards the pond which is covered by what looks like fine pieces of cotton just floating on the surface. Into the shadows we go stepping around fallen branches from the winter storms and popping back out into the sunlight. Cinnamon the deer is asleep by the fence, she opens her eyes, looks at us and dozes off. She and Freedom have known each other along time. Cinnamon has a deformed foot, she is not releasable.

As we are hanging out Freedom is rather chatty today, she keeps going and going, she has a lot to say. As the conversation winds down Freedom comes up with a sound I have never heard from her before, an extremely high pitched, steady chirp that is almost a whistle. I look at her and she looks at me and does it again, this time even longer. I smiled, touched her talon and said "thanks".

We had a good day.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The New 'Pebble Dance'

Just last weekend Freedom made me laugh as about as hard as I ever have before. She was in a great mood, feeling funkified and wanting to dance. I had just arrived at Sarvey, as I drive up she knows the sound of my truck and her white head spins around in recognition. I hop out and walk over to her flight, she greets me with an animated 'chak chak'---and that's when the 'dance' starts. She jumps down off her perch and waddles (she doesn't like me to say that but it's true) over towards me, grabs a talon full of pebbles, squeezing the talon full a few times and then dropping/throwing them down. She looks at me and does a little Motown step, one foot over the other, back and forth as she bobs her head in time dancing her way up the hill. Talk about a bird in a great mood, we were having serious fun now. Then as a friend watches she does the exact dance heading downhill.
Good to see the introvert has vamoosed, let the good times roll.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

In March of 2008 I sent an email to a friend explaining the relationship between Freedom (a beautiful bald eagle) and myself. That simple act started a worldwide email blitz that has resulted in magazine covers, radio interviews, tv show requests, but most exciting of all is my book due out in March of 2010. I got lucky again and wound up working with truly exceptional people who have become friends in the process. Thank you Kate, Jen, and Liz.This book (no title yet) will be published by Harper Collins. I will post more info as it becomes available.Here is the article that started the whole crazy ride. I hope when this book comes out it will generate interest for more people to volunteer at their local wildlife rehab place and for people to become more aware of the daily struggles the wild ones have. They need our help now. Support your wildlife rehabber! ---
When Freedom came in she could not stand. Both wings were broken, her left wing in 4 places. She was emaciated and covered in lice. We made the decision to give her a chance at life, so I took her to the vet’s office. From then on, I was always around her. We had her in a huge dog carrier with the top off, and it was loaded up with shredded newspaper for her to lay in. I used to sit and talk to her, urging her to live, to fight; and she would lay there looking at me with those big brown eyes. We also had to tube feed her for weeks. This went on for 4-6 weeks, and by then she still couldn’t stand. It got to the point where the decision was made to euthanize her if she couldn’t stand in a week. You know you don’t want to cross that line between torture and rehab, and it looked like death was winning. She was going to be put down that Friday, and I was supposed to come in on that Thursday afternoon. I didn’t want to go to the center that Thursday, because I couldn’t stand the thought of her being euthanized; but I went anyway, and when I walked in everyone was grinning from ear to ear. I went immediately back to her dowl cage; and there she was, standing on her own, a big beautiful eagle. She was ready to live. I was just about in tears by then. That was a very good day. We knew she could never fly, so the director asked me to glove train her. I got her used to the glove, and then to jesses, and we started doing education programs for schools in western Washington. We wound up in the newspapers, radio (believe it or not) and some TV. Miracle Pets even did a show about us. In the spring of 2000, I was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. I had stage 3, which is not good (one major organ plus everywhere), so I wound up doing 8 months of chemo. Lost the hair - the whole bit. I missed a lot of work. When I felt good enough, I would go to Sarvey and take Freedom out for walks. Freedom would also come to me in my dreams and help me fight the cancer. This happened time and time again. Fast forward to November 2000, the day after Thanksgiving, I went in for my last checkup. I was told that if the cancer was not all gone after 8 rounds of chemo, then my last option was a stem cell transplant. Anyway, they did the tests; and I had to come back Monday for the results. I went in Monday, and I was told that all the cancer was gone. Yahoo! So the first thing I did was get up to Sarvey and take the big girl out for a walk. It was misty and cold. I went to her flight and jessed her up, and we went out front to the top of the hill. I hadn’t said a word to Freedom, but somehow she knew. She looked at me and wrapped both her wings around me to where I could feel them pressing in on my back (I was engulfed in eagle wings), and she touched my nose with her beak and stared into my eyes, and we just stood there like that for I don’t know how long. That was a magic moment. We have been soul mates ever since she came in. This is a very special bird. On a side note: I have had people who were sick come up to us when we are out, and Freedom has some kind of hold on them. I once had a guy who was terminal come up to us and I let him hold her. His knees just about buckled and he swore he could feel her power rip through his body. I have so many stories like that. I never forget the honor I have of being so close to such a magnificent spirit as Freedom’s. Hope you enjoy this. Jeff

Thursday, April 30, 2009

At first I am afraid. Her beak is huge. Her spirit immense. Jeff shows me how to hold my arm braced against my body. He supports my wrist with his hand.
It takes a few tries. Then she is on my arm. Time slows down. All I can think is I wish you could fly. I see the gray cat sitting quietly at the bottom of the long green slope. His stillness is the patience of the poised hunter. I wish you could hunt.
She touches my forehead with her beak. I become deeply aware of my left eye. She takes hold of the upper frame of my glasses. Lets go. Takes hold of the gold earring in my left ear. Lets go.
She touches my face again and again with her beak. I want to touch her but as I begin to move, the feathers on the top of her white head rise. Jeff grins at me. I drop my hand back to my side. Her touches continue to be cool and soft.
I tell her I might know how it is. I tell her I have no way of knowing how it is. To not fly. To not hunt.
My arm grows numb. “I’m ready to give her back.” Jeff slowly extends his arm.
Later I consider what cannot be captured. I have driven to be with her from the Mojave Desert. In that place what goes to earth dessicates to particles. In her home, what goes to earth melts away.
I drove from dust to mud on Highway 395. The road runs north through mountains and sage basins, along the West Walker River in Nevada. There I slowed for a curve, glanced to my right and saw veils of color on the riverbanks. Pink, silver-brown, gold, green-gold, rose-gold.
Alice. Through the Looking Glass. She is in a boat. Something else paddles. A caterpillar, a white rabbit, a mad hatter... Rushes grow on the banks of the stream. Alice has never seen colors as beautiful as the pale greens and pinks and silvers of the rushes. She leans over the edge of the boat and gathers in huge armfuls of the rushes. Again and again. The bottom of the boat is filled with glowing color.
And then, no matter how many rushes she lays at her feet, the radiance in the bottom of the boat begins to fade and disappear.