Soar Like An Eagle
“Oof!” Scott Lancer hit the ground with a thud that knocked the wind right out of his lungs. Vaguely, dimly, from a distance he could hear his brother Johnny calling to him but he couldn’t answer him. Not right away and that worried the younger brother.
“Scott! Are you ok?” Johnny’s blue eyes were anxious.
The sound of Scott gasping for air was all Johnny got for a reply at first. Scott lay on the hard ground wheezing for a moment then finally, to his brother’s relief, he was able to reply.
“Yes, I’m fine.” Scott sat up with a little help from his brother.
“You sure? You had me worried.”
“I’m fine, Johnny,” Scott reassured him. “I just got the wind knocked out of me for a minute. Help me up, will you?”
Johnny stood and extended his right hand to his brother pulling him to his feet and looking him over for any visible damage. Finding none – at least there were no tears in Scott’s shirt or pants – he began to dust his older brother off.
“Just what the heck got into Ranger anyway?” Scott asked as he retrieved his mount. Fortunately the bay hadn’t wandered too far off and Scott was able to get hold of the reins and calm the nervous gelding down.
“A bird,” Johnny replied succinctly.
“A bird? Ranger doesn’t usually startle at the sight, or sound, of a bird,” Scott said incredulously.
“That may be so, brother, but this was a big bird.” Johnny pointed toward a large tree near the banks of Wolf Creek. “See over there? We got us a pair of eagles nesting here. I think we got too close to the nest and the mama was making sure her babies are safe.”
Scott looked where his brother was pointing. Sure enough a large bald eagle was watching them carefully – ready to defend her young if these human invaders came too close to her nest again.
“She’s a beauty,” Scott said. “I wonder where the male is? They mate for life, you know.’
“Yeah, somebody told me that a long time ago – when I was just a kid.”
“What else did they tell you about them?” Scott was curious to see how much Johnny really knew and how much was perhaps a bit of braggadocio. He felt that Johnny was bragging so he wouldn’t sound ignorant compared to Scott who had a Harvard education and often had his nose stuck in a book when he wasn’t working.
“Well, I was told that the young ‘uns have speckled brown feathers and don’t get that white head until they’re about two or three years old. I hear tell the females can have wings that are about seven feet long but the males are smaller. That’s funny, isn’t it? The male only grows to have wings that are six feet six inches.”
“It happens that way sometimes,” Scott replied. “I’ve known human couples like that. Back in Boston we had neighbors that weren’t very tall but Mrs. Lawton was taller than Mr. Lawton by about three inches. She’s only about five-six but he’s only five foot three.”
“Yeah. Well anyway the females even weigh more than the males. They weigh about twelve, thirteen pounds but the males only weigh about nine pounds.” Johnny’s eyes crinkled as he said, “Kinda like you and Dolley at the saloon.”
Johnny was referring to one of the saloon girls in Green River. It amused him, and Sheriff Val Crawford to no end, that the woman who stood more than six feet tall and weighed almost three hundred pounds was always looking for attention from the best looking men in town – his brother included. Every now and then her amorous attention drove the smarter, more sober among them away from Green River and over to Spanish Wells or Morro Coyo just for an escape. If they heard that Dolley wasn’t working, or was out of town, then they went back to Green River. The less sober, and habitual drunks, were glad of any female attention – Dolley’s included.
“Enough of that, little brother, or I’ll sic Dolley on you next time we’re there. I know for a fact she likes you better.”
“Yeah? I think she likes Val best though,” Johnny said with a chortle. “I sure would like to see Val and Dolley together. They’d make quite a pretty pair wouldn’t they?”
“Somehow I don’t think our intrepid sheriff would appreciate your efforts on his behalf, brother dear,” Scott said with a poke to Johnny’s ribs.
“He didn’t,” Johnny admitted with a grin. “He threatened to beat the crap out of me and throw me in his jail for a month.”
Scott laughed. “Better mind your manners then. Even Val will take only just so much of your nonsense before he really gets mad.”
“Yeah, well, it’ll be a while before I go into Green River’s saloon.”
“Yeah, she’s set her sights on me now.”
Changing the subject back to the eagles, Scott asked, “Did your source tell you about the eagle’s range and habitat – home territory and nesting?”
“I don’t remember for sure,” Johnny admitted. “It was a long time ago. He was an old prospector who told me he’d tangled with one near his claim.”
“From what I remember reading,” Scott said, “they usually nest in the tops of tall trees but sometimes way up on a cliff. The average nest is about two feet deep and five feet across. The nesting pair adds more materials to it every year. Some nests weigh several tons and are five feet or more across.” Walking a little bit closer to the tree by the creek Scott added, “They’re monogamous – they mate for life and will only seek out a new mate if the first one dies. That’s more than can be said for a lot of people.”
“That’s for sure,” Johnny agreed. “The Talbots are about the only folks I’ve ever known who wouldn’t dream of looking for someone else.”
“You’ve got that right, brother. Mr. and Mrs. Talbot are as much in love with each other now as they were when they got married so many years ago.”
The female eagle squeaked and emitted its shrill cry as the boys stopped short of the tree where she was nesting. Scott looked around but could find no sign of the male anywhere. There were plenty of fish in Wolf Creek as a general rule but he wasn’t hunting. A full-grown eagle would be hard to miss if it were anywhere around.
Suddenly, Johnny saw the male and pointed as he spoke to his brother.
“Look, there he is. Across the creek in that twisted old oak.”
Scott followed Johnny’s pointing finger. “Yes, you’re right. Why’s he there instead of fishing though?”
“I don’t know,” Johnny replied. “Maybe we should check it out.”
“You want to get that close to its talons, little brother?”
“No,” Johnny admitted. “But we can’t leave it there if it’s hurt!”
“We won’t,” Scott said. He was as concerned as his brother knowing that the male wouldn’t desert his mate any more than she would desert him and the nest. He walked over to where they had left the horses and retrieved the binoculars he had brought with him that day.
“Where’d you see the male,” he asked again when he returned.
“Way up near the top of that old oak,” Johnny said, pointing again.
Scott trained the binoculars on the spot Johnny indicated. Focusing them as he did so he was finally able to see what the problem was. The male had gotten himself entangled in some twisted branches and was caught – unable to free himself.
“I see him,” Scott told Johnny. “He’s caught in some branches. Looks like one leg is caught and he can’t get himself free.”
“What’re we going to do? Can we help him without getting marked up by those talons?”
“I think so,” Scott answered with a smile.
He left his brother and went back to Ranger where he took his rifle from its scabbard and walked over to a spot near the creek where he could see the eagle clearly without getting too close. It was a proverbial long shot but he was going to give it all he had.
“What are you up to?” Johnny asked as Scott took up his position and took careful aim.
“I’m going to free that eagle.”
“How do you plan on doing that, Brother?” Johnny looked at his brother in disbelief. “You’re the one that was worried about getting too close to its talons.
“Watch and learn, Little Brother,” Scott said.
Leaning on a large boulder that was directly across from the tree the male eagle was trapped in, Scott took careful aim with the rifle.
Crack! The rifle fired a single shot. Crack! The tree branch that had held the male eagle trapped broke, freeing the bird to return to his family. The majestic bird rose into the air and made his way to the tree that his nest was in, and his mate was waiting.
“You did it!” Johnny was stunned. “That’s good shooting, brother. No wonder you won the contest at the fair a couple of years ago!”
“Nothing to it,” Scott bragged.
“Nothing to it?” Johnny laughed. “Sure, brother. Tell me another one.”
“Well, good eyesight and a lot of patience have something to do with it,” Scott conceded.
The brothers, satisfied that the eagle family had been reunited headed for their horses. The male eagle settled into the nest while the female soared off in search of food so that he could rest.
“You know something, Scott?”
“You’re like those eagles.”
“How’s that,” Scott asked suspiciously.
“Well, you sure did soar like an eagle when you flew out of Ranger’s saddle a little while ago.”
Scott’s indignant cry was drowned out by the sound of Johnny’s laughter as the impish younger Lancer spurred Barranca into a gallop to escape his irate brother.