I’d just come downstairs from my computer to my husband who was urging we go and enjoy this springtime Sunday, saying I was on deadline to write an article, and was trying to choose an appropriate subject.
And then almost mystically, the topic appeared above me, out of the blue.
I heard the unmistakable chitter of eagles, which always causes me to look up in search of these majestic birds, many of which we enjoy seeing—along with their nests—here in the Northwest. Standing on my patio I looked up and directly over my house were circling not just one grand white-headed bird, but three.
I stood there in awe, as the trio, two adult males and an equally-sized youth not yet white-tipped, circled directly above me, as I excitedly tried to capture their moving images on my cellphone, for about two minutes. Usually, when coasting on an updraft, our neighborhood eagles swiftly drift their circles out of my view, but these three remained just above, as if speaking directly a message of strength and optimism.
“You have your article,” my husband grinned, as I ran back to my computer to write. Our inspiring national symbols were communicating that all we need do is look around us to lofty heights, and we can perceive messages of hope, often placed right before our eyes.
Seeing eagles soaring has always been a literally uplifting sign. The founders of the United States selected the eagle as the national emblem in 1782, and it appears, wings outstretched, on our national seal, clutching a bundle of 13 arrows in one talon, and an olive branch in the other. The eagle, significantly, faces the olive branch, noting the national belief that peace should prevail over war.
The eagle was chosen because of its freedom in flight, soaring above mountaintops, surveying great distances. Ben Franklin lobbied for the turkey as the national emblem, dubbing eagles “rank cowards” for ignoring smaller birds who harass them away from their young. But it’s this mastery of the skies, seemingly unconcerned with lesser pests, that endows the eagle with its supremacy.
Here were we live, we often see crows dive-bombing eagles coasting in their territories. There are 14 recognized eagle nests near my home—and average nests are five feet in diameter, four feet deep, and weigh about a ton. Each year, the mating pair adds about two feet of material to the nest, causing it to grow deeper.
Our local paper described the recent efforts of residents to prevent a homeowner from construction on his property near an “eagle tree” nest, though he demonstrated that his proposed work would not harm the tree nor disrupt the eagles. Fiercely protective of our beloved baldies, the community group consulted two arborists, a State Fish and Wildlife biologist and the head of our university School of Forestry to craft their appeal to the Planning Commission, according to the newspaper. And they prevailed.
I’ve always thrilled to see the glorious gliders sweep above my home, gradually spiraling out over Lake Washington. During the time my husband faced cancer treatment, I felt they graced my view more often than by coincidence, reassuring me that our arduous health challenge would pass.
But it’s not only the wingspan of eagles that can remind us that difficulties of the moment or the month are eclipsed by the enduring, positive upward spiral of our American progress.
Citizens’ education levels are increasing nationally, and concern about the environment is spurring positive change. In fact Jay Inslee, our governor, is running for President on just that issue. We’ve made significant local progress—in the 1950s, sewage pumped directly into Lake Washington caused such pollution that swimming was banned. The response, in the late 1960s, was new sewage lines and treatment facilities, cleaning up the lake so that water transparency went from a dingy 30 inches in 1964 to 25 feet in 1993.
The nature around us—from our views of Mt. Rainier to the east, to the Olympics to the west—remind us of a force greater than ourselves. On cloudy days when guests comment that they can’t see Mt. Rainier, I reply, “Well, we think of it like God—even though you don’t see it, you know it’s there.”
And the reminders keep changing—spring flowers switch to summer’s roses, longer days let us linger outside, and the snow that paralyzed us in February seems far removed in June. It’s too easy to get locked in our artificial boundaries of work hours and cell phones (note to girl I see every morning at the bus stop: look up from your phone or your neck might get stuck in that ninety-degree crick!). Personally, that’s the beauty of observing the Jewish Sabbath—a day every week I can count on as a respite from devices and inward worries, forcing a focus on nature, others and loftier thoughts.
The eagles I heard singing this morning are a perfect example of rejuvenation, as well as hope and strength. Despite their symbolism, eagles were nearly decimated in the US by hunting (can you believe it?) and the pesticide DDT, leading to their near extinction. When declared severely endangered in 1968, there were only 417 nesting pairs of eagles in the entire country. Banning DDT, enacting preservation laws and triumphal reforestation in many states let the birds rebound. By the time they were removed from the endangered list in 2007, there were more than 10,000 nesting pairs. By 2015, estimates put the number of eagle pairs in the US at about 14,000.
So the next time you hear their characteristic whistle-y trill, look skyward, and remember that our problems are transitory, and we can choose to enlarge them, or engage the potential to soar.
Diane Medved, Ph.D. is a psychologist and author of six books on family, most recently Don’t Divorce: Powerful Arguments for Saving and Revitalizing Your Marriage. She and her husband, radio host and author Michael Medved, raised their three children on Mercer Island and can be seen strolling its parks with their two-year-old and six-month-old granddaughters.