In the year that she was born, something happened to her. Something that would keep her tied to the earth for all her life; that would keep her wings, spanning nearly seven feet – folded, helpless – forever wrapped around her body.
Ten years ago she was born in Minnesota, where she was hit by a car…carelessly crossing a road; possibly flying too low, in front of a driver too foolish to stop in awe – too preoccupied to gasp at what Nature hath wrought. She was found two weeks after the accident, dragging her injured wing in the dust, but with gold eyes still searching the sky, as if waiting for her injury to unleash her, so she could fly back to her home in the blue atmosphere.
The complex crush of bones in her wing and shoulder was treated at The Raptor Center of the Universitiy of Minnesota, where her kind was welcome. After three years of rehabilitation, experts realized that she would never again fly well enough to live in her cold forests, to search for rivers running silver and scarlet with salmon, to raise her family on the tops of mountainous trees – looking down on wild acreages thrumming with life.
So when those three years had passed, she traveled West, to be received by the Institute of Wildlife Studies, in the balmy arms of Santa Catalina Island. That is where I saw her earlier this month.
We had stopped in front of a large enclosure of paneled wood, with the aviary itself like a curtain of meshed steel. Through a single window I was able to see her: frowning, statuesque, still – save for a predatory tilt of her head, as if she were still looking for something edible and scurrying through the brush.
Her name is Pimu. "Pimu" was the name given to Santa Catalina Island by the Gabrieleno/Tongva tribe – aboriginal inhabitants of the island. She is a bald eagle – its majestic gem: glittering, noble and rare. Pimu is now being trained to accompany Institute biologists whenever they visit school and civic groups – so that they might train their audience to respect the closeness and wonder of the natural world.
But when I saw her that day I thought of so many other things: the Presidential Seal, the Maltese Falcon, the dollar bill…all flat, stagnant symbols suddenly come to lofty life.
Her head was held so high – with a dark crease of feathers over her eyes, making her resemble a feathered fury. She saw above us. She saw beyond us. There was danger in the hook of her beak; in the tearing potential of her talons.
And there was magnificence through and through.