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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Eagle Economics

Bald Eagles are truly incredible and magnificent creatures. Obviously not the same as llamas but they are in the same class of brilliance, dedication to each other, and an obvious passion and enjoyment of their own existence.

The economy being what it is, you take work when and where it is. So for the past two months I have been working as a road construction flagger just outside of Bremerton Washington in this weird little 'Bermuda Triangle' of Gorst [yes its spelled correctly], Port Orchard, and Bremerton. It's a quiet neighborhood area and the traffic is relatively light with all same people coming and going several times during the day. They stop to chat occasionally, and one of the more obviously affluent and dare I say arrogant to the extreme women that come by daily actually asked me if I liked being a flagger in a tone that came across as usual for her as if I was something she would scrape off the bottom of her 200 dollar shoes. And so the answer was a somewhat less than polite "not only no, but [explective of your choice] no."

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Now you really want to zoom in on a larger map and look closely at where Anderson Hill Rd literally drops into and off of SR16. That's where we have been working for past three weeks from there UP the hill towards Hansen Rd. No big deal and it doesn't give you a good idea of what's going on, but its a sewer installation job down the middle of the road.

ANYWAY, when you look at the map at the intersection of Cook Rd and Anderson Hill Rd you will see a HUGE looking lawn with nothing on it at all. To the left of that field you will see a row of trees leading away from the highway.

AND SMACK IN THE MIDDLE of that row of trees is a multi trunked 250 foot plus tall Douglas fir tree with an eagles nest in it. Bert and Ernie live up there, and yes I know they are a pair, but that's my names for them so live with it.

What you need to know about Bremerton Washington is that its claim to fame is its naval shipyard with all sorts of aircraft carriers and other Navy ships on site regularly. From their vantage point, the eagles have a clear and constant line of sight view of every ship docked or moored or coming or going. Now I suppose I could make all sorts of metaphorical references to the presence of eagles overlooking the ships, and how they act as a symbol of the freedom and protection our military provides every American citizen. But guess what folks.... the eagles don't care.

They have their own world of economics, loyalty and survival. I have watched them now for more than two months and their routines are incredible and efficient. EVERY morning, one of them flies out of the nest on to the very top of the tree and hangs out looking across the bay, then up the hill to the house with all the chickens, and even eyeballs the wayward cats that wander around all day long. No there will be no graphic tales here.

I have watched them greet what must have been last years offspring with a mixture of recognition and rejection, clearly showing and stating that yes you WERE ours, but now you are on your own, its time for another hatching. I have watched them PLAY, literally in mid air, swooping and diving around and at each other. And I got to watch them breed several weeks ago first in mid air, then finishing I suppose what they started rather quickly high in the top of nearby tree.

I have watched them fly circles around the alder and fir trees for several minutes looking carefully for just the right branch or limb that they needed for reasons only known to them, then dive into the trees, grab it with their talons and swoop it off into their nest to add to it. It is quite something to see an eagle with a limb in its talon flying across that open field area. Many of those limbs are what most of us might call kindling firewood, they are that big. And its obviously not just a random grabbing. It's orchestrated. One will land with the limb, and the other one, soars off almost at the exact same time to go get something else to add to the nest. During the low tides, they swoop down into the bay and pluck up grasses to add to the nest.

I have watched them violently defend their nest and territory against a wayward great horned owl. That was an amazing thing to see and hear. Just like a llama alarm call I heard this noise that was not something you could confuse with anything but an alarm... AND I WEAR EARPLUGS on the job. As I looked up there was the owl flying by looking for a place to land. And out of absolutely no where the second eagle came flying in, wings partially folded at break neck speed heading straight for the owl. The other eagle flew out of the nest and perched up on the top of the tree and they literally took turns tag teaming this poor owl. As soon as it would dodge one eagle, the other would swoop down at it in the same break neck dive, while the first recovered from its dive and perched screaming on the top of the tree. And this went on for almost 15 minutes as they chased this owl off to a distance of more than a mile that I could see.

But it was orchestrated, it was choreographed and it was efficient. Like the llamas I love and adore, they have a bond that even from the distance offered to us is clear and evident and they will fight to survive not for some high minded sense of morality but for the sake of life and survival itself. And it doesn't come from complicated moral values or issues of freedom or equality or justice; it just is their raison d'ĂȘtre.

So what's the lesson to be learned? There unfortunately is none. We humans are faced in this country and the world with an economic crisis some liken to the panic of the 1970's while still others the Great Depression. Take your pick, it really doesn't matter, things are bad, real bad and will get worse. The bottom line for us puny humans in the trenches is much like my two eagles; the need to focus on survival has become of paramount importance.

But unlike the eagles, whose lives seem to have point and focus and pattern and comfort of sorts, we have created a life as humans that have made almost every aspect of survival as we know it totally and completely dependent on a complicated woven pattern of a magnitude and scope that makes even the simplest thing like the computer or cell phone or pda you are reading this on over and above anything related to survival, but WE think it is.

And that is our downfall.

Speed of progression to the precipice of collapse is being measured in terms that when all is said and done has nothing to do with the basics of survival, but again WE think it is.

Bert and Ernie, my eagles, will continue building their nest, and will eventually lay one or two eggs and I will be long gone and off to some other grand adventure standing in the middle of the road flipping a sign to stay one step ahead of all the people who stand in line with their hands out for money. They won't care if unemployment is 4% or 14% or 40%; it doesn't matter to their lives. They won't care if the Dow Jones industrial average is 6000 or 60000; it doesn't matter to their lives.

But for now, I watch my eagles and envy the simplicity of their lives. I have no pretense that their existence is hard, it is in fact much harder than mine in many aspects down to the most fundamental core of living or dying on any given day, but their methodology, their processes, and their way of dealing with their existence leaves much to be envied.

And I do.

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