Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Eagle and the Kolea

It was sunny and warm and the old eagle had drifted off to sleep on a big branch high above the ground. He was big even for his species and a bit grey around the edges. He had had a long full life, he had done it all. There was no aspect of being an eagle that he had not accomplished with room to spare. Some of these accomplishments had accumulated over the years and some (acts of bravery, for example) were ancient history by now. So, a nap in the sun (while always nice) was feeling especially good on this particular day.

Startled awake by a chatter of chirps, he looked down on a cocky little kolea asserting her territorial prerogatives against a flock of little songbirds who, apparently, were unclear on the concept of territory. They would hop into the air at her headlong rush only to land again a few feet away. Finally, they wandered off seemingly at random.

In the eagle’s mind a thought was forming, “Strictly speaking, my little friend, this isn’t your territory either.” Without thinking he rose up to his full height and flapped his wings hard while continuing to hold to the branch. The kolea didn’t even look up. Up he rose again, and took two solid strokes with his wings while still holding on. Still no response. A little piqued, he pushed off from the branch without thinking whether he would have the kolea for dinner or just give it a good scare.

A fraction of a second from impact she turned, saw him coming, smiled and winked.
The eagle braked hard to a stop 6-8 feet away and hovered for one extra stroke of his wings before gliding off looking for a thermal to lift him back to his branch in the tree.

He had just had a serious shock. “What the hell is going on?” he demanded of himself. What indeed? The old eagle had just experienced a rush of emotions that he had not felt in years. (If ever.) He was IN LOVE. In a situation where such feelings could hardly be more inappropriate.

It might have been a heart attack. Some of his friends were already gone. True, there was some pain around the place where his heart was, and his pulse was was up, but everything was dominated by a spreading warmth and a feeling of elation. He shook his head hard, trying to clear the cobwebs. Then again, also to no effect. He glanced around to see if this aberration of his was being observed and then looked down at the kolea who was absent mindedly puttering about doing whatever koleas do. Without moving a feather he felt as if an updraft had lifted him from his perch and sent him hurtling into the sky. Finally, he pushed off and headed for a nearby stream and after that he settled for the night into a dark corner of a small grove.

The next day he was back on his perch filled once again with the feelings of  the previous day and in addition a growing frustration over the fact that it was not likely that there was going to be much communication between him and this new friend of his. He did a lot of shifting from foot to foot and fluffing his feathers and letting them settle back. It was going to be a long day.

Then in the early afternoon the sky darkened and the clouds began to rumble with the impending arrival of a serious looking thunderstorm. Little bursts of cold wind began to build in intensity providing a taste of what was to come. Then a few sprinkles began to fall and the flash of lightning and crack of thunder ushered in a serious downpour. The kolea ran this way and that but there really was no place to hide. In contrast the eagle just hunkered down and tightened his feathers around him. Of course, an isolated branch on the tallest tree at the edge of a meadow was not the safest place to be in a lightning storm, but the eagle hadn’t given much thought to such things in the past and it didn’t occur to him to be concerned. But his heart went out to the kolea. What to do?

With a major effort of will (eagles are really uncomfortable on the ground) he pushed off his perch and hovered down to the meadow not far from the kolea, who was by now looking pretty sad and bedraggled. He stood as tall as he could and spread his wings. It took a few moments for it to sink in on her that this was the only shelter in sight, and a place to get in out of the rain.
With some serious hesitation (two steps forward one step back) she made her way under one of his wings being careful not to touch him. She was going to pretend that she hadn’t noticed that it was an eagle and that she might have mistaken him for a bush or a big leaf.

By this time the eagle was getting tired of standing so tall and he settled down a bit, and the kolea settled down, and the eagle settled down, and then just before the kolea nodded off to sleep she snuggled up against him for warmth and he pulled his wing tight around her.

The rain stopped during the night and a bright sunny morning found our unlikely couple beginning to stir. The kolea had slept straight through. The eagle had resolved to remain alert, but as a matter of fact, he had drifted off at some point. The eagle was first awake and despite the cold and stiffness in his old bones he was reluctant to disturb the kolea. He probably realized that this was as good as it was ever going to get.

And that is just the way it was. When the kolea woke with a start she bounded from the eagle’s side, never looked back, and began bustling around the meadow, doing whatever kolea do in the morning after a heavy rain. It took the eagle some minutes and considerable stomping about and wing flapping to get himself warmed up enough to get off the ground. Once in the air he found some lift and was circling back toward his perch when a cold, hard shudder passed through his body and his vision began to blur. The eagle was crying. Another circle in the sky took him higher still and he began to get control of himself. This was a lot of new stuff for an old guy to handle.

The kolea had forgotten instantly. The eagle would never forget. Another circle in the sky took him higher still. Finally he was just a speck in the sky, and then gone. Some say that the eagle slipped over a mountain pass into the next valley where he met up with others of his own kind and settled into a comfortable old age. Others maintain that this kind of love sets aside the usual laws of nature that have to do with space and time and that he is still circling slowly upward. Even now.

Some say that when rain falls from a cloudless sky, “It is the eagle’s tears.”

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