I am an eagle fan.
No, not the professional football team — the raptor, the consummate bird of prey, the symbol of the American spirit.
It is known as the “bald” eagle, but since my hair is starting to thin out a bit, I’ve gravitated away from that term; besides, they’re not actually bald.
I can see why some Native American cultures view the eagle as a sacred symbol. When you watch an eagle cruising on thermal currents high above the land, looking down on all of humanity, it stirs primal instincts.
It appears as if the eagle knows something more of mankind than we do. As its piercing screech echoes across the valley, it seems to say “I am Eagle, See Me Soar.”
Generally speaking, I am awed by all raptors. I always have been, since I was a kid growing up on the farm in Wisconsin. I remember one time I was out in the woods with my air rifle (a.k.a. BB gun) and a red-tail hawk drifted above my 10-year-old head, circling as it tracked prey.
I absently shot up at it, never dreaming I’d actually hit it. But I watched the BB as it arched its way up slowly; I cringed when I realized it was going to impact the bird, which it did, right in the chest. The graceful bird flinched when the BB hit. Its wings fluttered and it dropped a foot or two in elevation.
My knees buckled, and I think I may have gasped something, I don’t remember. But I do remember that moment nearly 48 years ago when the BB hit and I realized I’d just shot a magnificent bird. I couldn’t take the BB back after it had left the gun.
Fortunately, for me and the hawk, the gun wasn’t powerful enough to do any real damage, and the bird just flew out of the area. I swear it was eyeballing me as it left, as if to say, “You are a dirt bag and I place the curse of the raptor upon you.” Well, maybe not those exact words, but that was the impact.
I swore that I would never shoot at another hawk, and I never did. I think that was when I gained such respect for raptors, and especially eagles, the alpha raptors. Like Native Americans, I began to view the raptor as a symbol.
Years later, I would join an organization that had an eagle as the most prominent of its three symbols: the Eagle, Globe and Anchor of the United States Marine Corps. Here I learned what it meant to not only respect, but treasure and protect the eagle and all it stands for as the American symbol.
It was a post I stood for 20 years and was proud to do so; deep in my subconscious, perhaps I did so partially as atonement for interrupting the graceful flight path of that hawk.
Now I have a collection of eagles … not real ones, but all kinds of representations in ceramic, glass, metal, photo and stone. I have entire families of eagles. Now that I think of it, all these symbols could translate into a religious shrine of some sort.
If so, then a pilgrimage I must make is to Alaska. I have friends who have taken the Alaskan cruise and come back with stories and photos of American eagles in all their magnificence. I’ve never had the opportunity, but maybe someday.
Until then, I’ll just be content knowing that the eagle was chosen as our American symbol and not the wild turkey, as had been suggested by Benjamin Franklin in a letter to his daughter after the eagle had been appointed as the national symbol.
Don’t get me wrong, turkeys are magnificent in their own way. It’s just, well, can you visualize a turkey on the end of a flagpole or in the middle of the Great Seal? Have you ever seen a turkey fly? It’s not a pretty picture. And you seldom see a turkey because they’re very elusive, especially if you’re hunting them. How can you be a symbol if you’re elusive?
Nope, I’ll stick with the eagle that soars high and proud and very visible. And if the football team does well, too, they can credit their namesake.
So, on this Friday, August 26, as you prepare to go into your weekend, I hope you will soar with the eagles and not flutter with the turkeys.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is a regular contributor to PRB and lives in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (678) 350-8642 or e-mail email@example.com.