The car idled in the middle of the street. With the glint of white sky reflecting on the windshield, I could not see a driver. Detour or continue? How suspicious I’d become. Murder, drugs, kidnapping.  So much mayhem in my town at the edge of the Alaskan wilderness. I was headed to the woods to forget all that, and more.

I edged to the side of the road and kept going. Closer, level with the driver’s side, I peered into the window. A young man sat at the wheel, a boy really. Dark hair, a hockey emblem on his jacket, maybe on his way home from the local high school. He faced away from me, studying something on the opposite side of the street. I followed his gaze to a weathered wooden fence a few paces away. There, atop a post, a dark shape, foreign yet familiar. My brain struggled to explain what my eyes beheld.

The boy opened his window and leaned toward me. His skin was smooth and clear.

“Hasn’t moved,” he whispered.  “At first I thought it was a juvenile bald, but maybe it’s a golden.”

A boy who stops to parse eagles.

Up close, the size and power of the bird stunned and unsettled me. Standing on the ground, it would surely reach my waist. Its beak curved sharply into a deadly tip that could rip my flesh just as easily as a hare’s. It seemed indifferent to us, focused on whatever lie inside the bounds of the fence. Cat? Chickens? Small dog?

A slight breeze rippled the rich brown feathers along its back, revealing the paler juvenile tones beneath. Surely a bald eagle, since we were far from the mountainous haunts of the golden. Last summer while driving to town I spied the unmistakable white head of an adult bald eagle perched on a power pole above the marsh. Maybe this was an offspring, here in late November when it should have moved south. With winters turned so mild these past few years, if food was plentiful in a neighborhood with easy prey, why leave?

“I’ve never been this close,” he said, eyes wide.

No one passed. For minutes we shared the street. The boy, the bird, the jaded woman.

At last, the eagle raised its head and glanced back at us as if to say, “What are you doing here?”  Silently, it spread its magnificent wings and lifted off.

The boy and I stretched our necks to watch it soar over the neighborhood.

“Wow,” he said.

He put the car in gear and inched forward.

Yes. Wow.

“Have a great day.” he said finally.

As he pulled away I waved and followed the eagle into the forest.

 

Susan Pope

Susan Pope’s work has appeared in Pilgrimage, Under the Sun, The Southeast Review Online, Cirque: A Literary Journal of the Pacific Rim, Hippocampus, Under the Gum Tree, Burrow Press Review, BioStories, and Writers’ Workshop Review, among others. Her writing reflects intimate connections to home and family in Alaska as well as a restless exploration of faraway places. Her essay entitled, “Canyon,” which appeared in Bluestem, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012.

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