Our fore-fathers; Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were all given the job of coming up with a design of an official seal for our new country…their work must not have been very good because Congress didn’t give them approval and in fact, two other committees also failed before the job was turned over to Charles Thomson, who in mid-June of 1782 was handed the job. Thomson was the secretary of Congress at the time and decided to take the best elements of all three committees work…and made the eagle much more prominent. Truth is one can go way back to ancient times and follow the path of the eagle as it was always considered a sign of strength; the Romans used it as their standard or symbol…thus the eagle became the symbol of our United States of America.
If you, like me, grew up here in southern Indiana, then a Bald Eagle sighting was probably rare for most of your life. Only recently has our American symbol started to make a glorious comeback and much of this has been attributed to hunters (usually duck and geese) changing to steel shot as a replacement for lead which was ultimately thought to be poisoning these majestic birds as they fed on ducks, etc….that had died from ingesting lead. The comeback was so prolific that on June 28th of 2007 the Bald Eagle was officially removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
On my recent trip out west with my oldest son, Harrison, we were treated to a large number of eagle encounters…in fact we also were able to see a couple of Golden Eagles which are even larger than the Bald Eagle and quite a sight to see soaring in the sky overhead. For me an eagle sighting isn’t commonplace and won’t be something that ever gets old or is ignored…but let me tell you of an up close and personal story that I had with a young, immature Bald Eagle just this past week while fly fishing along Sugar Creek just southwest of Crawfordsville.
I was about halfway down my stretch of the creek and entering a long, slow curve of the creek back to the west. This area has always produced some nice catches and in fact just a couple weeks back I hooked and then lost (after about 30 seconds) the largest smallmouth I have ever seen and as you can tell I am not quite over it yet? There is a giant Sycamore that hangs out over the creek and it is under this tree that I hooked the previously mentioned heartbreaker smallie. As I neared this tree I looked down river and noticed an eagle flying my way. He was low, just a few feet over the water and at this point appeared to be quite graceful.
As the bird neared I could tell it was indeed a young bird that either hadn’t yet seen me or didn’t know what I was. Usually eagles will fly so close then flare off and leave the vicinity…but this very large youngster just kept on coming right at me. I stopped casting and put my feet down in the river to stop my momentum as I wanted to watch and see just exactly what was about to transpire. The bird continued to fly right at me, low to the water and as he neared about 50 feet out he must have finally seen me or was tired, not sure which…but he put his flaps down, causing him to make a thunderous landing in the aforementioned Sycamore tree. Now at this point I couldn’t see the bird land but was close enough that as debris started falling into the water…well, let’s just say it was raining down on me.
Within a second or two I floated directly under this newbie and looked up, he was no more than 20 or so feet right above me and frankly it was one of the most pitiful sights I have ever seen in nature. There he was, claws hooked into the white bark of the tree. The limb he was on was leaning downward at about a 45 degree angle causing the bird to lean way into the tree to be somewhat upright. His giant wings were literally down and folded around the circumference of the limb…and I swear to you that he had a ‘death-grip’ placed upon this tree. His head and beak were facing downstream and as I passed under and looked up, this poor bird gave me a look of, “Help”! It was then that I knew he must be on one of his very first flights. God and nature can only do so much and for any of his creatures there is an element of experience…it was obvious that this bird hadn’t had any experience in landing his very large and oversized body.
Once again I stopped casting and pulled over to watch what might happen next; it was then that I could see the bird looking around, I am sure that it was looking for the next step…where would I go and what would I do. Without any prompting the bird used it powerful legs and claws to hop forward and take one flap sideways as it was going to land on a large limb…but as it did the limb broke out from under its weight and came crashing down just feet from where I was sitting. Panic was now in the forefront as the bird dove downward towards the water, once again towards where I was just hanging out, being a spectator. I wasn’t sure he was going to pull out of the stall when finally one of the four principles of flight, lift, took over! Just like he knew what he was supposed to do this behemoth of a bird soared over me and back out into the main branch of the stream, gave a couple of graceful flaps and within seconds was once again flying upstream with a grace that made me chuckle to myself. Anyone coming downstream at that point would have commented on the elegance of the bird; oddly enough, just a few seconds earlier I was privy to a scene that was chocked full of humor…but not much elegance.
On this day I had caught about a dozen smallmouth, had had another great day with my good friend Frank Terkhorn…but that wasn’t the show, as I had been privileged to view one of the subtle happenings in nature. With a grin I shoved off, once again casting to smallmouth…this young eagle would someday grow up to represent our nation, but on this day he gave me a glimpse into nature and once again how lucky I was to Enjoy the Great Outdoors.