Interesting what sickness will do to you.
A few weeks ago some virus swooped in out of nowhere and knocked me flat. For a week, I ran a fever, I coughed, I ached, my bronchial tubes flared up, my sinuses rose to the challenge and then the ears kicked in. After a while, there’s only so much Facebook a person can handle, and when my eyes hurt too much to read anything, sitting and staring worked just fine. That’s when I discovered the Eagle Cams.
First, I discovered a video camera trained on an established nest in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. There, B1 and B2 were cozily tucked into the nest, sleeping. When dad swept in with a large trout ensnared in his talons, life got interesting. I watched as Dad and Mom took turns bringing lunch, dinner, and breakfast to feed their hungry children. But along the way, I discovered another eagle cam, this one in Minnesota and filled with tremendous drama.
By the time I tuned in, mom was sitting vigil where, stuck deep in the nesting material and struggling weakly to free himself, was a fuzzball named Harmon, his little head resting on an old, rotting, fish corpse. He’d been stuck there for about 24 hours and was obviously exhausted, unable to eat or move. The University of Minnesota Raptor Center had just gotten a permit to attempt a rescue, and within minutes of my viewing, mom flew off, spooked by noises from below.
As I read the rapidly flitting comments from viewers, I discovered the Broadband Corporation had a “cherry picker,” a truck with a bucket lift, positioned 100 feet beneath the nest with a rescuer ready to ascend to Harmon’s aid. I also learned that Harmon’s sibling had fallen to its death less than a week before. To make matters worse, it started to rain.
So there I was, literally on the edge of my chair, sick as a dog, devouring this drama amidst faint little peeps from Harmon, the occasional weak struggle to free himself, the sound of a cherry picker making its painfully slow ascension, the patter of rain on the web cam, and a gnawing anguish at not being able to make a difference. Such a huge sense of urgency for me and about 10,000 other viewers apparently also glued to their computer screens and firing comments like machine guns. Would they reach Harmon? In time? Would he be OK?
When a climbing rope slipped around the tree branch in view of the web cam, I tensed with expectation — I hadn’t been this antsy since I watched “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” And when rescuer Jim came into view with a softly spoken, “hey, little Buddy,” I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I watched, along with my newfound friends, as he sat down (with room to spare – that’s one huge nest) and plucked Harmon from danger. As Jim placed him carefully in a carry bag, he explained to his unseen companion that they would take the hapless eaglet to the Raptor Center for evaluation and nourishment. If all proved well, there would be about a 48-hour window of time to return him to the nest so the parents would be less likely to abandon him and he might be able to grow up wild and free.
As Harmon and Jim eased out of the camera view, leaving a barren nest behind, I realized I’d been holding my breath and tensing my body. Harmon was safe for the moment. I was exhausted.
I checked news reports the next day. About 24 hours later word came that Jim would replace Harmon in his nest with a full crop, X-rays, and a medical exam under his belt. The young celebrity was returned along with a few fresh fish heads so the parents would have something to feed him … IF they returned. This drama was by no means over.
Waiting was terrible. I started tuning in occasionally, only to see the poor baby peeping and calling, but always alone. No parent visited, although word was they’d been seen flying around the area. About 24 hours passed, and viewers were growing desperate and worried.
I left my vigil to grab some lunch, returning to see two adult eagles on the nest, both taking turns feeding Harmon! I can’t begin to tell you how warm and fuzzy I felt. Since then, I check in each morning and evening just to see how Harmon is growing. Sometimes I catch a parent with him, sometimes just the kid asleep in the nest. Over the past weeks he’s sprouted like any adolescent — there are definitely some real feathers showing up. I think he’ll do just fine and never realize how his plight captivated so many people from all over the world.
What does it say that this life or death drama in nature made such an impression on so many people? I’ve been trying to put my finger on that, and while I can’t speak for what pushes anyone else’s buttons, I finally decided the whole episode scared up a quote I hadn’t thought about in years.
“I would not exchange the laughter of my heart for the fortunes of the multitudes; nor would I be content with converting my tears, invited by my agonized self, into calm. It is my fervent hope that my whole life on this earth will ever be tears and laughter.”
Khalil Gibran penned those words, and it’s something I’ve embraced as a basic tenet for living most of my life. “Tears that purify my heart and reveal to me the secret of life and its mystery, laughter that brings me closer to my fellow men; tears with which I join the broken-hearted, laughter that symbolizes joy over my very existence.”
I think, in a microcosm, this recent journey thousands of us made along with Harmon offers a living, breathing example of Gibran’s wisdom. The fear, the worry, the tears – all for a little fuzzball of an eaglet in Minnesota – paved the way for the laughter of renewal and joy over his survival and, by extension, ours.
It’s life, is all, in the guise of an eaglet.