There is nothing to relieve the boredom of the straight paved freeway coming at you like an eagle, or better yet, many, many eagles. I went on a family and business journey to Minneapolis, Minn., recently, and the return trip home was eagle after eagle.
Eagles have been a love of my life from the time I arrived in Oregon. Back in the early '50s, I discovered them being killed by 1080 poison put out by government trappers killing coyotes. Eagles are still with me today as my wife Sue and I help to conduct a state-wide survey of Golden Eagles in conjunction with the Oregon Eagle Foundation.
Like all birders who have a special bird they enjoy and see all the time in their subconscious, I too see the shape and movement of eagles automatically, while driving down the road, canoeing on a lake or hiking—the movements of eagles are always there.
The recent trip awakened those senses more than once. In Minnesota, it was at the crossing of the Mississippi River that I met my first eagle. I saw the name of the river on the roadside sign, the bridge ahead, and suddenly right above it a huge, beautiful, adult female bald eagle coming toward me 20 feet above the bridge. "Wow!" I thought, "What a wonderful way to start the trip!"
And that was the beginning of meeting up with eagles as I headed west. The other (this time, an adult male) bald eagle I saw while crossing the Missouri River in Montana appeared on my right and went right over the rig while I was in the middle of the bridge.
Sprinkled among the eagles on other nearby waterways were osprey of all ages, inland gulls, a white pelican or two, and over the fields and a few migrating Swainson hawks headed south, which added even more to the trip.
Now here's one for the books. During the drive home, the rig I was driving developed a serious overheating problem as we approached Billings, and I had to depart the freeway. I took the first exit immediately, and lo-and-behold there was a firehall with two guys working on a pumper out in the yard. When I pulled up they immediately checked me to be sure I was OK, then they saw my engine overheating problem.
While waiting for everything to cool down, I checked for external leaks and found everything tight as it should be. When all was cooled off the fireman gave me water to recharge everything, and I drove into Billings to spend the night.
There were no water puddles under the rig in the morning, so I fired it up and got onto the freeway again, heading west. About 40 miles east of Billings the temperature gauge began climbing, and by the time I arrived at the exit to the little town of Columbus I had to make a choice.
I chose to go back to Billings, as Columbus didn't look as though it would have a shop that would solve my problem. I took the exit and thought I saw an eagle—and as a result, missed the turn back onto the freeway.
Having no other choice but to continue into Columbus I began looking for a shop, which quickly appeared on my left. I parked the rig and went inside, looking it over carefully. As I stepped up to the counter the receptionist, a young lady with long, blonde hair, had her back to me talking on her phone in a voice that sounded familiar. When she turned around I was shocked; she looked (and sounded) exactly like my daughter, Miriam, but without freckles.
The little adventure tuned out to be even more fun when the mechanic discovered the water pump belt (which could only be observed from under the vehicle) was nothing but black pieces of spaghetti. I got to know the family as I waited for the repairs.
As I was rolling back onto the freeway I wondered if the eagle I thought I saw had anything to do with the wonderful experiences of meeting new friends, and getting my rig fixed.
The many crossings of the Clark Fork in Montana were also eagle moments. The first time I crossed it—now that eagle sightings were in my subconscious—things were different. I actually slowed down, expecting an eagle to appear.
As I approached the east end of the bridge, there it was, another adult baldy coming at me like an F-16, as though someone had said to it, "Hey! Get going! Jim's almost at the west end of the bridge!"
When I crossed the Clark Fork the last time I saw two more adult bald eagles, but when I crossed the Coeur d' Alene River, no one was there to cheer me on.
I stopped at the Lake Coeur d' Alene overlook to enjoy the scenic view of that enormous inland lake: A leftover from the magnificent Bretz Floods—named for J Harlen Bretz, an American geologist best known for the persistence that led to the acceptance of the Missoula Floods carving out the Columbia Gorge.
I looked for eagles, but had to be content with spotting eight osprey–four adults and four juveniles, all preparing to get underway for wintering in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and other points south.
Crossing the Columbia into Oregon netted me one more immature baldy, but from there on to Sisters I had to be content with a golden soaring over the pillow lavas of Cow Canyon on Highway 97 north of Madras.