Bald Eagle

February 1st, 2016 17 Comments

Bald eagle

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)


I have seen two bald eagles (or, more likely, one bald eagle twice) in the last three days.

The first time, the poor thing was being harassed by two ravens who followed him, like jackals trailing a lion, for a remarkably long distance. The second time, he was by himself, flying quite low, but flying like an eagle on a mission, an eagle with things to do, places to go, and other eagles to meet. And both times it made my heart leap.

I’m an unabashed patriot. I love America and believe strongly it is the greatest country the world has ever known. It gives me a thrill every time I see our flag flying; I get emotional when I hear the national anthem; I feel a burst of pride whenever I see young men or women in uniform, especially young soldiers in their dress uniforms on state occasions; I even feel proud when I see a photograph of the Capitol Building, though I’d like to wade in there with a bullwhip and a branding iron. But bald eagles especially get to me. In part, this is because they are incomparably, dramatically beautiful birds; in part it is because they are our nation’s symbol; in part it’s because they are relatively uncommon in this part of the world (in twenty-five years I’ve only seen one here on two other occasions, though I’ve been to those places in Alaska where you can see hundreds on a daily basis); and in part it’s because the first one I ever saw was with my father, so I associate them with him.

I was home from college, and I had only recently reached the stage Mark Twain (apocryphally) made famous by discussing how much his old man had grown up in seven years. My father was by then director of Gunston Hall, the museum once home to George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration Rights, and on pleasant evenings that summer after the tourists had left, my father and I would take our drinks and walk around the magnificent gardens, the towering allées of boxwood and lilac, the acres of roses and jasmine and nicotiana, the air heavy with scent and the heat of a Virginia tidewater summer. At the end of the gardens, where the land dropped down steeply to the woods and the distant Potomac, there were two gazebos, and we sitting in one of those one evening when a bald eagle sailed by, skimming over the tops of the trees, below us, so that we looked down on his back and the incredible, brilliant white of his head and tail.

It’s a rare thing ever to be in a situation or place where you can look down on the back of a raptor, and to be able to look down on the back of a bald eagle, our national symbol, while talking to my father just as I was beginning to appreciate what an extraordinary, completely unique man he was and how lucky I was to have him in my life, made it one of those moments that will warm me on my deathbed.

And later, before his untimely and much too early death, my father was able to use that sighting and the fact that there was a nesting pair in the woods at the end of Mason’s neck, to get the federal government and the state of Virginia to join forces and protect much of that land from development. If we hadn’t been sitting there that evening and hadn’t seen that eagle, he might not have been able to do it, and Mason’s neck would now look like all the rest of northern Virginia, a sprawling mishmash of subdivisions and shopping malls, all the unimaginative cookie-cutter development that passes for progress in America these days.

But we were, and he did.


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  1. Anonymous says:

    Rocky Mountain High.

    This is a song by John Denver another man who died tragically young.

  2. Anonymous says:

    A strange and true American myth. Benjamin Franklin did not want the Bald eagle as the National symbol of America.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am proud to be an American.

  4. Anonymous says:

    That was beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes.

    Your loving and respectful memories of your father touch the part of me that understands what it is like to have an extraordinary father.

    Very nice.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hello JP,

    oh yes, a magnificet bird. I’ve looked up Gunston Hall on a former occasion but this time I’ve found a website with beautiful pictures of Mason’s neck, the house itself and scenery. Whow!

    A wonderful place. And there actually seems to happen an Eagle run. Whatever that is 😉 .
    You really can be particulaly proud of of your fathers involvement to preserve this jewel. I only can repeat what I already said at the end of my second last comment. No offense…. 😉

    Best wishes


    • Anonymous says:


      Thank you for the link to the beautiful pictures. I’ve never been to Virginia, and these pictures are creating a desire to visit there.

      Carla In California

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is. the. First time I am very interested in. The accidental. Cowboy hope to read it soon

  7. Anonymous says:

    J’habite une ville nouvelle avec beaucoup de routes, d’autoroutes, de lotissements et de centres commerciaux. Mais nous avons aussi un lac, artificiel certes, mais qui regroupe beaucoup de sortes d’animaux et surtout d’oiseaux. Je m’y promène souvent et j’y admire la nature !!!
    Il y a entre autres, de petits rapaces qui viennent s’égarer la nuit dans nos jardins. Parfois, la nuit, j’entends leur cri perçant et le petit cri strident d’un rongeur qui vient de se faire attraper par ce rapace !!!
    Observer, sentir, entendre la nature font partie des choses essentielles de la vie !!! Merci Mon Dieu de nous avoir donné tous ces sens 🙂

  8. Anonymous says:

    Sammy Hagar – “Where Eagles Fly”. A nice acoustic ballad…
    When I first heard this song many long years ago I had to learn to play it on my acoustic.

    TD Bauer

  9. Anonymous says:

    Great story, great accomplishment. And the eaglets raised in that nesting area went on to help repopulate the East–Bald Eagles are almost common in many places in the East again(I’ve seen quite a few here in North Carolina in recent years), something unheard of when I was growing up. And no matter how many I see now, it always gives me a thrill, too!….Which reminds me of a joke(ahem!)–a favorite of mine, so bear with me…..Seems this poacher got caught after killing and EATING a Bald Eagle. He went to court, took his punishment, and denied nothing. After his sentencing, the judge said, “I don’t mean to be callous or anything, but I must admit, I am curious. What exactly DOES a Bald Eagle taste like?” The poacher thought about that for a moment, and then drawled,” Waal jidge, it’s kinda hard tah disskribe. ‘Bout the best ah could splain it iz that it’s kinda betwixt a Whooping Crane and a California Condor!!!”…….L.B.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I subscribed with my email address, but I don’t get an email notifications. I can counter this issue, however, by following on Facebook. When I’m scrolling at the speed of light over “pray for this cancer patient that I’ve never met” or “Here’s a kitten that’s not even mine to make your day!” or “Share this and say amen or Jesus will be angry!”, or “watch this video of a person falling and hurting themselves, it’s hilarious!”, or “I’ve decided that I’m really about animal abuse and I’m going to post a picture about it!” … I have to say, I squeal excitedly — not intentionally — when I see a post from you. It saves me from the inane chatter of my well-meaning “friends.”

    However, if I’m on my phone (which I am 99% of the time, except for right now when I’m at work and should be working on monthly reports), I can’t leave comments here.

    Which might be helpful, so there’s not squealy-girl comments all the time.

    Carry on.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I get the same feeling on seeing our Bald Eagles. We had a pair nesting right across the road from us last spring. I’ve seen them back already this year. Watch them flying over our house and soaring around hunting on our hillside. That is why I Love where we have moved to. I can usually see a Bald Eagle most every day. I will stop what ever I am doing just to step outside and watch them. Such an awesome bird.

  12. Anonymous says:

    “The Wind beneath my wings”

    I can fly higher then an eagle….

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