Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Eagles Have Gone

photo by Timothy K. Hamilton

It’s another night of the two o’clock feeding – not a baby – feeding me. And, another night of the two o’clock memories. I’m sure they are triggered by the fact that next week I go to Mississippi where most of the memories take place.

Tonight I’m remembering a Sunday afternoon drive, Mom, David and me. We liked to ramble through the places where Mom used to live, and she’d tell us stories about the people, her life and the places.

One of my favorite stories is about Eagle’s Nest Bayou, a stand of cypress trees that stood in the middle cotton fields by the time I was along. Mom wanted us to see the nest in case we never had a chance to see one again. She called this a little bit of nature’s heaven and remembered it in her childhood as being a large bayou with lots of cypress trees and lots of knees and scary scrub brush that grew around it as the land rose from the bayou waters. Eagles had lived there most of her life, and she was in her late 30s then. She said you could see the babies poking their heads up from the nest as you drove along the narrow road that skirted the bayou. And, she talked about the majesty of seeing the eagles hunting in the late afternoon as they swooped along the edges of the much smaller cotton fields – hunting mice and other small creatures to feed the family.

Other nests spotted the small bayous and ranged along the banks of the Mississippi River not far away. Not as common as blackbirds and still majestic enough to take away your breath, the eagles lived in harmony with the people and the crops. Farming was done with mules and work horses; so even the noise in the cotton fields did not disturb them. She and my Dad used to court by going in search of eagles’ nests in the area around her home – driving along on Sunday afternoons just as we were doing.

Then tractors came, and bulldozers made the bayous smaller. The fields were dusty and noisy. Still the eagles stayed though fewer in number. Mom remembered how you found nests only in certain places then, behind the levee of the river, in larger bayous and mostly out of sight of the roads.

I think I remember seeing an eagle once at Eagles Nest Bayou, which was near Jonestown, Mississippi. But, by the time I was 10 (that was 1955), only the crumbling nest remained in a tiny little bayou no bigger than an olympic size swimming pool. No eagles had been there for some time. The trees holding the nest had no protection from the dust and insecticides of the cotton fields that ranged for acres all around. Crop dusters sprayed chemicals in the fields around the bayou killing the boll weevils but also the small bugs and critters that fed the small mammals which were food for the eagles. The image of that abandoned nest is seared in my mind with what seemed like hopeless love. I yearned to see the big birds take flight, to watch diligently for the little beaks that might peek over the top of the nest. And, I cherished Mom’s memories of being around the great creatures.

I have had the joy of seeing the great eagles – driving along I-40 crossing from North Carolina into Tennessee, one swooped down from the heights of the mountain toward the river on the other side of the road. The truck driver beside me and I both nearly ran off the road watching this startling sight. And, I’ve seen one recently slowly moving along Highway 17 with something in its beak.

However, not as majestic but awesome still, the ospreys nested in a tall pine tree across the creek from our house. They’re used to the noise of the power boats and the jet skis. I watched this past year as the nest was refurbished and finally got to see little beaks peeking up over the top of the nest. I remembered Eagles Nest Bayou and I was grateful that these beautiful birds had been able to adapt to a changing habitat.

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