Strike Eagle was up and out before daylight. He sprint-winged his way to a wide spot in the Rogue River to snag breakfast. It would be a sure thing in the deep waters lingering in the large pool just below Rainie Falls. Gliding above, Strike’s sharp eyes scanned the river below.
The powerful eagle spotted a large trout slithering toward a bug flitting about on the water’s dappled surface. Spike’s swift dive and steel-trap talons caught the careless fish. The big eagle lumbered into the air, his weighty load dangling above the water’s surface. Helpless, the fish flopped wildly in a futile attempt to disengage the big bird’s clutch. Strike settled on a large gray rock hugging the south bank of the river and began ripping flesh and gulping it down.
A hungry osprey circled overhead covetous of Strike’s catch but the osprey’s ogling didn‘t bother Strike. Though the formidable bird’s talons were similar to Strike’s, the osprey’s fighting skills were no match for the bald eagle.
“Don’t bother,” Strike called between swallows, “ya do and I’ll tear you to shreds!”
“Yeah, I know,” the osprey answered disappearing between two giant firs and gliding up stream to find a spot in the river to catch his own meal.
Knowing that no animal was likely to challenge him, Strike finished off the trout. His reputation as a fierce fighter was well established. It preceded him wherever he went… not to mention his being known as a heartless bully. Invariably, when he came into view, other animals quickly spread the alarm.
“It’s Spike!” someone would shout and the intimidated animals would all scatter for shelter. From time to time a coyote, cougar, bear or similar four-legged forest creature might try to surprise and frighten Strike into abandoning his fare. But the challenger would not likely succeed. All creatures living in Rogue River Wilderness knew it…Strike’s powerful talons could crush any foe’s skull and his hooked beak could destroy an attacker’s eye quicker than the animal could blink.
Strike no longer relished a fight as he once did. Now, he relied on his reputation as a brutal, merciless and often unfair fighter to intimidate the animals living in his wilderness. It was clear to all that the big bird could take care of himself. Now, most of the time, when a challenger appeared, Strike simply let out a threatening kleek kik ik ik ik causing any would-be thief to slink away.
It was a year ago that Strike reached adulthood… though he didn’t always act like it. Since then, he had become a cocky braggart with a bully’s reputation.
His boorish behavior started early. When he and his sister were eaglets, Strike enjoyed maliciously pushing her from the nest, laughing as she tumbled toward the ground struggling to regain her equilibrium just before crashing. When his sister grew large enough and he could no longer safely badger her, he resorted to calling her names. “Ultima Ugly” was his favorite.
Yes, he’d grown to intimidate other bald eagles as well and most animals living within hundred miles of the territories he called home. He annoyed bears, coyotes, deer, elk and other large animals… he liked buzzing them, zipping within inches of their heads threatening to take out an eye or lay a nasty gash across a nose or shoulder. While he didn’t allow animals, even eagles, to steal from him, he often chased other forest creatures away from their prey to claim it for himself.
In those selfish days he enjoyed swooping down on an absent minded chipmunk – gripping it with his powerful talons, swinging it into the air, flapping to an appropriate height, dive-bombing toward the churning water of a nearby stream, dropping it like a missile into the churning waters and watching as the terrified creature struggled to save itself.
Some of the young male eagles discussed among themselves how they ought to challenge Strike… to put him in his place. But doing so would take more courage and skill than any of them had. Even the adult eagles avoided Strike. No one dared cross him. He’d become notorious.
One day Strike had badgered a bunch of eagles into another impossible contest to see who could soar the highest.
“What’s the point?” Rodney Eagle intoned, “You’ll win no matter how much bullying and cheating you have to do to do it…”
“Ah…. Poor Rod,” Strike’s tongue slashed, “…Doodooo Bird… sore loser.”
“Maybe…” Gordon Eagle keeked, springing into the air and rapidly gaining altitude.
“Gord’s a puny mouse!” Strike shouted sprinting into the air after the challenger.
The other eagles followed.
Within minutes, Strike had overtaken Gordon. He gave the challenger a defiant flourish with his beak as he shot past him, rising higher in the air and away from the struggling bird. The rest of the gang followed desperately flapping their wings to gain altitude in ever widening circles hoping not to lag so far behind… looking foolish.
Finally, the insensitive bully reached his zenith. He circled there watching the others struggle below. Though other eagles strained to exceed… or at least match Strike’s altitude, none could. Strike called out a chilling kleek declaring victory.
When it was clear that he had defeated the gang once more, Strike flexed his talons and aiming at Lester Eagle, shot like a missile at the frightened bird. Lester tried to escape Strike’s onslaught but the merciless bully clipped Lester’s right wing feathers causing him to plummet out of control to toward the forest below. Every time the helpless bird tried to right himself, Strike renewed his harassing attack keeping Lester off balance. He followed Lester’s flopping fall, laughing all the while. Lester managed to save his life by spreading his wings just enough to catch the air and arrest his fall. He tumbled into a fir tree and fluttered awkwardly to the ground where he crouched trembling.
Rodney dropped to the ground and fluttered close to Lester to inspect his confused friend’s condition. One by one the other eagles settled near their embarrassed friend. Lester emitted a gaggle of complaint. The others joined him and directed their anger at Strike, who was now perched laughing in a nearby fir.
“Last on to the horizon is a puny canary!” Strike shouted taking to the air and heading west toward the open waters of the ocean.
“He’s going out of bounds!” Eric Eagle shouted.
“He’s been out of bounds for a long time,” Artie Eagle observed.
“I hope he gets lost!” Lester added.
“Yeah!” the others mumbled.
“Can you fly?” Rodney asked eyeing Lester’s ruffled feathers.
“Probably… not very well,” Lester groaned, “I think it hurt my pride more than my wings.”
“Okay then…” Rodney said watching Strike’s image disappear against the distant sky, “let the braggart go… Let’s head for March Meadows.”
“We’d better follow him, don’t you know!” Artie cautioned, “… He comes back… he’ll abuse us all… ‘cause we didn’t.”
“No! Let the bully go!” Rodney said, “I’m thinking… we don’t need him. We can do just fine without him…”
“Yeah Rod…” Lester said glad to have support.
Rodney took to the air… the others followed Rodney off toward their familiar hangout.
Strike flew west toward the horizon expecting his kettle of eagles to dutifully follow. He looked around and to his surprise the others were nowhere to be seen. A flash of resentment crossed his mind and burned deep in his chest. They always followed… took orders from him. In the heat of his anger, he was tempted to head back and teach the rebels a lesson.
“They’re ignorant down-puffs… They’ll pay!” he said glancing back once more at his wilderness. “I’ll give them a flocking.”
But a demanding curiosity about the unexplored forest beneath him pushed the urge to punish out his mind. He’d already passed the ‘out-of-bounds’ marker for young eagles living in Rogue Wilderness.
“Let ‘em stay down-puffs for all I care,” he said dismissing thoughts of the others.
For a long time Strike had wanted to defy the rules that kept young eagles from exploring the mysteries that lay west beyond Rogue Wilderness. The older eagles called it “horizon… at world’s end.” He had been taught that defying his elders was risky for a young eagle.
But he’d always wanted to explore the low-lying coastal hills lying between his wilderness and world’s end. For as long as he could remember, he’d wanted to ride wind currents above those mysterious ridges to see further than he’d ever seen before… No, he wanted to be further than he’d ever been before.
“Butterfly livers… What do they know?”
Acting on the defiant risk of flying out of bounds exhilarated him. Only the older eagles from Rogue River ever ventured this far west.
“Older eagles!” he chided, “… What’s in older? Now it’s my turn… “Risky? What risk? Yeah, for the kettle of pigeons I left back there… nursing weak eyed Lester the canary, but I’m Strike, King of Rogue River… I can do what I want. Finding out what’s over there will be a hunk of salmon.”
For as long as he could remember he’d seen a straight horizon to the west of Rogue River Wilderness but he had no idea what it was or why it was so level. The old eagles knew. Today, he would see for himself.
The winds blowing off the big waters were strong… so strong Strike found it nearly impossible to move forward. As far as he could tell he was just hanging there in one spot. He stretched his wings to their extremities and pumped as hard as he could.
“Maybe I ought to go back. The winds will thistle me home like an arrow.”
The powerful winds sucked the air from his lungs. For a moment he was frightened. He’d never experienced that sensation before. He found that, if he turned his head slightly, he could breath normally from at least one nostril.
Soon he found himself approaching the BIG WATERS he’d heard the older eagles talk about. The hills abruptly stopped. Before him lay flat water as far as he could see. It was breathtaking sight… almost hypnotic… begging him to glide over it forever… or at least to world’s end.
“Do I dare? There’s a reason we’re not supposed to go there. I’d better…” He looked down.
Below along the banks of the big waters he spotted a dark gray ribbon snaking over sand, through groves of trees and out the other side. Running along the ribbons he saw things he’d never seen before… square things moving quickly like ants along the dark surface.
He decided he would let the winds carry him down for a closer look.
Though the powerful winds buffeted him about, his expert flying skills allowed him hover over a place where a river dumped its water into an enormous pond, stretching west as far as he could see. He decided he would fly across the river to inspect a large square nest resting near the riverbank.
“It must be a big’s nest,” he said.
Then something happened.
An incredibly fast gust of wind caught him and sent him hurtling inland to the east.
Suddenly, he was wracked with an intense pain shooting through his left wing and sending him in an uncontrolled fall toward the river. The flailing of his right wing to keep himself from falling into the water caused him great pain.
He landed in the soft sand with a painful bump. He immediately lost consciousness. For a long moment he didn’t move. He lay in the warm sand as still as death. When he came-to, the world was a image of fuzzy light in the center of a dark tunnel… the light morphed into focus as a line of trees and then closed like an iris engulfing the world in darkness once more. He didn’t move.
When full consciousness returned, he found his left wing was twisted under him. Intense pain consumed him. He’d experienced pain before… but nothing like this.
He knew he couldn’t fly… maybe he could walk. He managed to struggle to his feet and take a few painful steps. The broken wing dragged behind him making wavy patterns in the sand. The dark engulfing tunnel threatened to come again. He wanted escape to come again. He lowered himself to his belly once more to await recovery… and to think. He drew his right wing next to his body… but his left wing wouldn’t come. It lay alongside him like a wet maple leaf.
For a long while he squatted in the warm sand and collected his focus. He became increasingly aware that he might be in danger from other animals or worse… bigs might find him. He knew they likely infested this mysterious land … beyond the safe boundaries of the wilderness.
It’d been an hour or maybe two, since he’d left the security of Rogue Wilderness and ventured toward the horizon and into this unknown… into bigs territory. He didn’t know what to do. He’d never been here before and felt helpless… was helpless. A shiver of vulnerability surged through him. The cocky wilderness eagle was indeed vulnerable to whatever might want to harm him.
He looked around for cover. Good sized, multicolored rocks, some looking like un-hatched eggs, dotted the river-sand near him. In front, the forest stretched along the river’s south bank in both directions … thicker to the east. To the west it gave way to the big water beach. It was covered with gray-white pieces of wood of all sizes and shapes. Maybe he could struggle his way to find cover in those piles of wood littering the sandy beach… or easier yet… to the tree before him.
He rose and took three more steps. Again, lightheadedness drove him down. He sat for a while in the warm sand… gasping for breath against the pain. He vacillated between the struggle to maintain consciousness and the desire to let the darkness overcome him.
A noise caused him to look back at the water. In the middle of the river floated a hollow log carrying two bigs… well… a big big and a smaller big. The bigs seemed to be trying to move their log against the river’s current. Strike wondered how the log could just sit in the water without swimming.
His throbbing wing demanded attention. He rolled onto his right side hoping to alleviate the pain.
The steady noise from the log brought his attention back to the river. The bigs were throwing slender vines into the water and pulling them out. They appeared to be stringing for fish. Obviously, they weren’t able to catch fish like he could. He wondered how they did it.
Pain once again invaded his thoughts. Strike remained still in an attempt to avoid the attention of the bigs.
Suddenly, the little big pointed in Strike’s direction and mouthed something to the bigger big. Strike could hear their talk but didn’t know what meaning was passing between them. He knew the language of all the animals of the forest, but not the language of bigs.
The floating log changed directions and began moving toward him. A shiver of fear shot through him. He feared the bigs were coming for him. He staggered to his feet, raised his good wing trying to lift himself into the air, but he only managed to flap a few painful feet toward the trees.
He couldn’t fly away from the threat, but maybe, he could walk or hop. His peripheral vision revealed that the bigs’ log had bumped into the shore. The pair climbed out and made their way toward Strike.
His instincts demanded that he protect himself as best he could. Short of escaping into the air, his most lethal weapons were his beak and his talons. It wasn’t likely the bigs would get close enough for him to pluck their eyes out with his beak, but if they tried to touch him he would sink his powerful talons into whatever came near and use their crushing strength to wound the attacker and cause him to retreat.
The smaller big trotted toward Strike.
Strike rolled to the right and over onto his back. The pain was almost unbearable but of preservation chemicals surging through his body overcame the pain and made him be ready to defend himself.
The bigger big shouted something to the younger one. The little big stopped abruptly several feet from Strike and waited for the other one to join him. The two bigs said something to one another.
Strike flexed his talons ready for the fight, but to his surprise, they turned away and headed back to their floating log. They got in and noisily moved away heading quickly down river where they disappeared behind the ridge of wood lying on the beach.
Strike breathed a sigh of relief… rested for a while, and then began inching his way in painful hops toward the woods where he hoped he could hide himself among low hanging foliage.
High water coming down the river last winter had deposited sand in waves along the shore. Moving was both easy and difficult…easy because there was nothing obstructing him and hard because the sand was soft. Dragging his broken wing, Strike inched his way across the broad river beach toward the trees. The pain drained his energy as well as his will.
The sun was nearing the western horizon, when Strike heard a frightening sound coming from the trees in front of him. He’d heard sounds like them before… when bigs in their strange looking logs moved along ribbons of stone paths threading the wilderness.
The sound stopped and soon four bigs, including the two Strike had seen earlier, emerged from the wood and walked toward him. One of the bigs carried a sand colored bundle.
They mouthed sounds to one another as they walked and then stopped fifteen hops from him.
Though his left wing throbbed with anguishing pain, Strike steeled himself for a fight. If they were to try to take him, they’d find themselves slashed by a thrashing beak and gripped by his powerful talons. Once again he rolled over onto his back and assumed his defensive posture… talons and beak ready to fight to the last.
The larger bigs unfurled the bundle and before Strike could do anything, they threw what they called a blanket over him shutting out the sun’s sweet light plunging him into semidarkness and making him immobile. A few rough helpless tumbles and he found himself wrapped in a cocoon. He felt himself being hoisted into the air and carried away.
Through the covering he could hear the bigs mouthing sounds to each other. He wished they spoke animal… if they did, he would know what they intended to do with him. He feared the worst… he began to tremble.
Soon the swinging motion ceased… the bigs had put him down on something hard.
Before long the smooth motion ceased… muffled sounds… Strike didn’t know what they were… his whole body shook. He could tell that the bigs were unwrapping the cocoon. He tensed his talons ready to strike… but they had exposed his back. He struggled to free his beak… maybe he could plunge it into soft flesh and they would have to let him go… But… he felt a sting… then the light irised into a tunnel and then… darkness.
When the light returned, Strike found he was surrounded by what he thought was a web of vines. For a moment he thought he was free… He looked for the opening… there were opening all around him, but none large enough for him to get through. The vines were all around him. He grasped a piece of vine with his powerful beak intending to snap it in two… but the vine didn’t snap. It was strong… harder than rocks… harder than anything he’d known. Gripping it hurt.
He tried to move his wings. His right wing fanned the air but his left wouldn’t move. It was wrapped in something and bound close to his body. A sense of confusion surged through him. He struggled to free the captive wing but the restricted movement only caused severe pain. The right wing was free. He lifted it and slapped at the grid of surrounding vines. The vines refused to move.
He was in a trap. A new burst of fright flashed through him, then panic. He’d never known anything but power and freedom. Back in Rogue River Wilderness he was first among the young eagles…master of his narrow world. But he’d dreamed of becoming king of the eagles… not just the eagles, but of all the animals living in the wilderness.
A deep anger welled up within him. How could the bigs dare imprison him? Strike… king of the wilderness?
He stood up and threw himself against the holding walls, but they didn’t give. The vines of his cage were hard… another assault on the stubborn barrier… he must break out of this deadly bondage… another desperate thrust… stone hard vines… stubborn resistance… painful, hard, unforgiving resistance.
He paused for a moment and wondered what the bigs intended to do with him. Another surge of panicky anger engulfed him.
Again, he looked for an opening… or a weak spot in the wall.
He pushed and pulled, but the vine was hard, unyielding. It wasn’t like the vines that grew in his forest. Once he’d encountered a hard vine running across an open field. It, too, was too hard to snap but it didn’t matter. It didn’t trap him. Minding its own business, the vine had come out of the woods and disappeared into the woods beyond the field.
Strike sat for a while thinking. Finally, he came to the conclusion that, seemingly, there was nothing he could do about his imprisonment. Gradually a confused melancholy settled on him. He looked through the square openings of his prison. There were no trees, no river… only gray sky. No, it wasn’t sky… it was too close to be sky. Strike concluded that beyond the narrow trap made of hard vines was another, bigger trap.
Suddenly, the gray wall in front of Strike parted. A bright light flooded the grayness around him. He could see trees and the sky beyond. He crashed against the side of his prison once more in an attempt to escape. But the trap walls held.
A big entered through the lighted opening and walked toward Strike. It was the little big Strike had seen in the floating log… the one who had come with the bigs who covered him with the large blanket.
The little big came close to Strike’s cage and stopped. It said something… but of course, Strike didn’t know what. The little big stood saying big noises while holding something in each hand.
Then, a big big entered through the bright opening and came to stand by the little big. The little big sat a shiny container on the ground near Strike’s trap, unfolded the leaf he held in his right hand and through the spaces between the vines dropped a nice chunk of salmon. It landed in front of Strike. Then, the little big picked up the shiny container and poured water into something hollow in one corner of Strike’s nest.
The two bigs stood for a while making big noises to one another. Then, they left closing the bright opening behind them, leaving Strike once more enveloped in the gray darkness. Strike was hungry… the salmon was right there in front of him. He didn’t have to fly into the sky and hover above the pond near Rainie Falls, wait for the exact instant to plunge into the shallow water to snatch the helpless fish. Here, in his prison, he didn’t have to do anything to get this chunk of salmon.
After moments of suspicious hesitation he took the fish and gulped it down. He then stepped to the water trough and drank his fill.
Day after day Strike’s life settled into a routine. Twice a day the little big opened the wall of Strike’s gray prison and brought fish and water. At first the little big was always accompanied by the big big, but as the days passed the big big came less often.
The little big always squatted near the prison and said things to Strike. “Tom… I’m Tom,” was the first sound the little big mouthed directly at Strike. Strike wished he could understand the meaning but he didn’t know what “Tom…I’m Tom,” meant.
When the big bigs accompanied the little big, they always said things to one another. Strike struggled to get meaning out of them. To understand what the sounds meant he might come to know what they planned for him.
One day three bigs came with the little big into the gray trap. At first Strike didn’t know why. But he learned. One of them came close to the nest. Strike prepared to defend himself with his lethal talons but the big thrust something past his talons and into Strike’s exposed stomach. It stung for a moment and then, darkness closed in on Strike… finally, all went black.
When Strike awoke the bigs were gone. He felt good. They had loosened whatever had kept his left wing bound uncomfortably close to his body. While he couldn’t easily flap that wing, he could now move it some without pain.
And the bigs always left a good portion of salmon and replenished his water supply. It became clear to Strike that the bigs were helping him for a reason. He asked himself over and over again why they would want to keep him in a “cage,” he’d heard them call it. And “prison,” laughed the big with the hairy face. Why did they bind his wing? Why would they feed him so well? Why would they bother to bring him back to health?
Maybe they were fattening him up for an eagle roast or something. Back in Rogue River Wilderness Strike and his friends had heard many stories about bigs downing birds with spitting sticks and roasting them for their banquets. Maybe that’s what these bigs intended to do with him.
Strike slammed himself once more into the sturdy vine mesh that kept him captive. Over the days he had repeatedly smashed into the restricting mesh hoping to weaken it and finally break through. His shoulder and the cutting edge of his right wing had become sore and bloody. Finally, he again gave up trying to break through the barrier and settled into a melancholy wait.
‘So, what if they do intend to roast me?’ Strike thought. ‘It’s the way of the world for all animals… Animals have to eat other animals to survive… Eagles like me eat salmon and other fish, rabbits, and even bugs. I’ve never given it a thought about what it’s like for the fish… when I devour it… does it have time to experience fear? What quality of pain does it feel? I’ll bet other eagles… Rodney, never thought about it either… or Lester… any of them… And what about coyotes? They eat deer. Bobcats eat squirrels and mice. And who cares what happens to snakes? Who cares what snakes think or want? Besides, snakes have small heads. What good can be in there? They must be stupid… I’ll bet. They eat bugs too, like eagles… but what of that? Bigs eat birds and other animals without thinking. It’s the way of the world for all creatures…. So what if the bigs do intend to eat me?’
A bright light flooded the gray interior of Strike’s prison interrupting Strike’s thoughts. It was the little big. Strike lunged at the prison wall attempting to get at the human. If he could get through the barrier, he would attack the upright walker with all his strength… first going for its head with his talons… then to his eyes with his powerful beak.
The little big carefully dropped a chunk of salmon into Strike’s cage avoiding the angry eagle’s threatening talons. Then, for a while he sat on a bundle of grass mouthing sounds. Eventually, he rose to his feet, approached the cage and poured water in Strike’s water pool. The little big said more words to Strike before leaving the shed allowing the door to bang behind him. The cave was once more plunged into smoky grayness.
Strike’s anger ignited causing him to fling himself against the sides and the top of his cave. He grasped a vine bar with his beak and clamped down. As always, this desperate action only brought him pain.
He settled in one corner of the trap brooding over his inability to escape. His anger smoldered within him.
“… Not back home! No! Back home no one would dared do this to me,” Strike said, grasping a naked corncob with his right talon squeezing it until his muscles hurt. “I am top eagle! … I know it! Everybody knows it! Rodney, Lester and the others know better than to challenge me. They honor me… They love me.”
He eyed a crack in the barn wall and added, “… Or maybe they were afraid of me… I’m not sure which.” He paused for a few seconds and chuckled, “It really doesn’t matter. Back home I do as I please.”
He fell silent for a few moments, then, said to his prison, “Maybe, they’ve crippled my wing… so I can’t fly… or, when I try to fly, I’ll just tumble through the air… they’ll just laugh at me… tumbling through the air… Or, maybe, they want to practice firing their spitting sticks at me have some fun doing that… They want to make me think they’re going to let me go… open the door… I scramble out and into the air. When I’ve made it just above the tree line… just when I think I’m freest… they’ll send one of their fire stings at me… watch it tear my insides apart… then, they’ll roast me and eat me.”
Strike didn’t know how to escape such brooding thoughts.
During the days that followed the little big came at least twice a day to bring Strike food and water. He came once in the early morning and again late in the afternoon just before grayness darkened into black. Once in a while big bigs would come with the little big… but most of the time the little big came alone. The bigs always sounded words to one another. Strike wished he could understand what they said… but, of course, he couldn’t.
Strike wondered why the little big always mouthed talk, even when he came alone. Strike concluded the little big meant the words for him. It frustrated Strike that he didn’t know what the talk meant. He wanted to talk eagle talk with the little big. He yearned to ask the little big why the bigs kept him in prison and what they intended to do with him. He wanted to ask him other things about the big’s words… what they meant.
As the days passed Strike began to think that he could understand a little of what the little big was saying… He kept hearing the little big mouth the same sounds. “Hey Rusty!” is what the little big always said first. Then, “Gackish… gumble wlack eat.” The little-big said “eat” a lot and “Rusty” over and over and “better,” “wing,” “fly,” “take,” “care,” and “freedom.”
Strike decided that he might as well try to teach the little big some eagle words.
So when the little big said words like “care” or “freedom,” Strike got used to saying “kleek kik ik ik ik,” which means, “Let me out of here.”
When Strike said “kleek kik ik ik ik, the little big always laughed and said, “It won’t be long, Rusty.”
“RUSTY,” It was clear that the little big wanted his captive eagle’s name to be, “Rusty.”
“I’m Strike!” Strike would always growl protesting the little big’s attempt to change his name. “Strike’s my name.”
“Well, I’m Tom,” the littlebig returned.
For a time it annoyed Strike that the little big insisted on calling him, “Rusty,” but finally he simply retaliated… by calling the little big, “Little Big.”
Over the days that followed Strike learned the words little big had assigned to lots of things. He learned that he was being kept in a “cage,” which was in a “barn.” He learned the words, “salmon,” “water,” and “strong,” and many other words bigs assigned to things and ideas.
One day, three bigs, came into the barn with Little Big. They carried tools Strike had come to associate with being “sedated.” He knew that the world would go black, that the bigs would do something to his left wing.
Yes, when he awoke, he found that the bigs had removed the bondage from his left wing. When he shook it, it didn’t hurt. He flapped both wings and crashed into the cage bars thinking he might now escape. If he could get free of the cage and the barn he would escape into the sky out of reach of his captors. He would head for his beloved wilderness as fast as his wings could carry him. Back to his friends… They must be wondering what had happened to him. They would welcome him back… He would find them longing for him to take charge. He would be KING of the wilderness once again.
But it was not yet to be.
“Your wing’s not ready yet… If you try to fly too soon, you will reinjure your wing,” Little Big said making signs with his arms as he talked, “… and maybe cripple yourself forever.”
Strike understood. “fly,” “wing,” “cripple” and something about “hurt forever.” But none of that mattered. Strike couldn’t break through the walls of the prison. Until his captors decided to let him go, he couldn’t test the wing anyway. He might as well settle into an angry wait… wait until the bigs decided what they were going to do with him.
Day after day Little Big continued coming to Strike’s prison. He talked constantly during his visits. Lately he always brought what looked to Strike like a rock…with leaves… not stone leaves but leaves like the ones on maple trees. But they weren’t rocks and leaves. Little Big called the rock shaped things, “books.” Somehow Little Big got the sounds off the maple leaves. It was magic. The sound he made for calling out was “read.” Little Big read many “words” to Strike. Day after day… no end of words, words, words.
Strike concluded that Little Big liked mouthing the words that came from his books… Strike came to believe that Little Big liked the feel of the words rolling around in his mouth and the sounds they made as they flew from his lips to ears… his own ears… to Strike’s ears. Strike concluded that Little Big experienced feelings like eagles get when they soar on towering thermals high in the sky far above the earth and call, “kleek kik ki ki ki.”
One day it struck Strike that Little Big was trying to attach meanings to the word sounds he mouthed.
If so, it wasn’t working. At first Strike was bored with all Little Big’s reading from his books, but he was captive and with nowhere to go and nothing to do he began to listen to Little Big and to make connections between sounds Little Big made and their intended meanings. After awhile the words began to make sense to Strike… they were names for objects. “Sky” named the blue air above the ground. “Tom” is what Little Big called himself.
And Tom mouthed words that contained the happenings about his world and the worlds of others. Tom called his talk ‘facts.’ And Tom’s facts were not just about the world of bigs, but of what it was like to be animals Strike didn’t know existed. Tom showed Strike magical ‘pictures’ of ‘antelopes’… where they live and ‘elephants’ and other animals… and the sounds they made.
Then came ‘stories’ about ‘imaginary’ animals and ‘strange places.’ Sometimes Tom started a story and stopped right in the middle before Strike found out what happened to the ‘badger’ in one story and the ‘buffalo’ in another. Strike began to look forward to Tom’s visits… to like Tom’s facts and stories and other knowing. He learned to “spell.” Yes, learned to spell and to count. And, though he didn’t yet understand it, he listened to what Tom called, ‘laws of physics’ and ‘chemistry,’ and ‘philosophy’ and even ‘moral’ matters.
“Morality, includes ideas about how humans behave… well how they ought to behave,” Tom said, “and maybe animals.”
“Animals like eagles?” Strike asked and before Tom could answer, he added, “We behave like we behave.”
“Don’t eagles hurt other eagles… sometimes?” Tom asked knowing the answer.
“Sure!” Strike said, “It’s the way of the world, isn’t it?”
“That’s it Rusty.” Tom answered with a snap, “and it’s not right to hurt others… that’s where morality comes in… treating other eagles like you want other eagles to treat you.”
“Oh, I never thought of it… we’ve always behaved like we’ve always behaved…” Strike mumbled.
“I didn’t think about it either… I used to behave like I always behaved… bullying my friends…. And…”
“Bully… what’s that?” Strike interrupted.
“That’s deliberately hurting others… bossing them around and taking advantage of them.”
“Then, what about you bigs bullying me… putting me in this cage, I didn’t ask to be put in here. I’m afraid you’re going to eat me or use me for target practice or something awful… That’s even worse than bullying isn’t it? Let me out of here. I want to get out of this dark place and go home. ”
Tom laughed, “It feels like bullying to you because you don’t… didn’t know what happened to you. We saved your life.”
“Knocked me out of the sky and threw me in a cage… that’s what happened to me.”
“We didn’t knock you out of the sky… well, in a way we did. You hit a power line we stretched across the river…”
“There, you see…”
“Holy cow! We didn’t put it there to knock you out of the sky… You think that? You flew into it by accident.” Tom stressed “accident.”
“The wire wasn’t hung there just to hurt you. I’ll bet you didn’t intend to hit the wire… it was an accident.”
“You broke your wing, when you hit the wire.”
“Wire… That’s what you call it.”
“Yeah, my dad and his buddies helped me rescue you from the river bank. We brought you here… to help you get well.”
“Oh,” Strike repeated glad he understood what Little Big was saying.
“Now, your wing is healed and you are almost ready to go home,” Tom said getting up from the hay-bale and moving toward the sliding barn door.
“Oh,” Strike responded.
“And listen to this… you’ll go home a changed eagle… Rusty Eagle… that’s who you will be from now on,” Tom said. He closed the door and was gone.
“Oh,” the eagle said, processing what was happening. Ever since he’d fallen from the sky and had been in captivity, Strike had thought the bigs meant to use him in some bad way… even abuse him. But they hadn’t. Now this little big Tom, had said the liberating words.
“Go home,” spun Strike’s thinking in different directions… the bigs meant him no harm. The opposite… they had nursed him back to health. He’d learned many things from Tom… things that opened his mind to wonder.
“Tom may be right,” Strike said fluffing his feathers. “Can I ever be the same again? “Strike?” He paused, “Strike?”
There was certain pain in letting go… an ache different from the pain he’d felt from his broken wing… This was a “giving up” pain… a “letting go” pain. Letting go of Strike the Bully will be hard. A bully has power.
“What sort of power do I have now?” he asked out loud. “What sort of power will Rusty Eagle have? … Rusty Eagle, the learner?”
He didn’t know why but the changing felt good.
He fell asleep dreaming about what Rainie Falls would look like to an eagle, that was seeing the world with new eyes… how he would respond to his kettle of eagles and how they would respond to Rusty Eagle.
The next morning Tom came into the barn accompanied by three big-bigs.
“He looks good,” one big said to the others.
“Yeah, nothing wrong with that eagle.”
“You suppose he’s forgotten how to fly?”
“No worry about Rusty,” Tom said. “He’s ready to get going… aren’t you Rusty?”
Rusty didn’t know if he should say anything. Talking with Tom was one thing. It had become comfortable… but talk to other bigs? He didn’t have anything to say to them. He simply said, “Kleek kik ik ik ik.”
“You understand him?” the first big asked, “What’d he say?”
“I think he said, ‘thanks for taking care of me’… and ‘now, can I go home?’”
“All that from ‘Kleek kik, ik… ik kik?’”
“Might as well do it,” the first big said putting a heavy glove on his right hand. He moved to Rusty’s cage and carefully gripped the wire handle on top expecting Rusty to latch onto one of his fingers with his beak. Instead, the big eagle squatted on his belly on the floor of the cage.
“Maybe he’s not ready,” big two said stepping beside the carrier. “… must be sick… a healthy eagle would be tearing off you hand.”
Tom almost wanted to agree with the big… He wished Rusty could stay longer… He would miss his visits with Rusty very much. ‘It won’t hurt to keep him in captivity a little longer,’ he thought. But he also knew that they dare not keep the eagle caged too long… his muscles would atrophy… and his will would atrophy to the point he would no longer be able to survive on his own in the wilderness.
Tom moved to the two bigs, “He’s grown used to having me around, that’s all… He’s not sick….”
The first man looked at Tom, admiring his wisdom. “Tom’s right… keep him any longer and he’s a domesticated pet,” he laughed and added, “as much fun as it would be for Tom to have a pet eagle, we gotta let him go.”
Tom and the men nodded in agreement. The first man carried Rusty’s cage through the barn door and out into the field where they had found him. The others followed.
The sky was an azure blue… not a cloud to be seen anywhere. The bright sun heated the sand and made the white rocks scattered along the riverbank glisten. The men squinted against the glare. A gentle, sweet breeze wafted on land from the ocean not far away. It ruffled Rusty feathers.
“You get the honors, caretaker,” the first man said handing Tom the glove. “Just cover your head and be ready to run, if he goes after you.”
“I’m not worried,” Tom said slipping it on.
Tom placed his hand on the door handle ready to lift. He paused weighing joy for Rusty’s release against the choke in his throat at the thought he might never see his handsome eagle again.
“He’s waiting for a ceremonial word,” the third man said laughing.
“Go ahead Tom… say something to send him on his way…” the first man said lightly.
Everyone laughed then fell silent awaiting Tom’s words.
Tom poised thinking. His hand rested easily on the release handle. Then, he smiled and said, “Good looking eagle… Rusty Eagle, you are awesome… Fly… fly free into your wonderful world. Fly… become all you can be…!” Tom slid the door up and the cage was no longer a cage.
Rusty stood to his feet… paused for a few seconds savoring the realization that freedom was at hand. And then, vigorously flapping his wings, he shot like a rocket out of the cage past Tom and away into the air skimming just above the white sand heading toward the grove of trees on the north shore of the river. At the forest edge he quickly lifted himself above the trees. Above the trees he hovered for an instant before diving back toward the four bigs standing near the empty cage. He shot past Tom, rose high into the air… circled the four bigs twice, and then began to climb into the afternoon sky heading east toward the Rogue River Wilderness… toward home.
Tom, his dad and the other two men watched the magnificent eagle climb higher and higher and finally catch the strong wind… blowing east off the vast continent of water to the west.
“Look at him go!” Tom shouted.
Rusty rose higher into the sky, became a black spot, then, in a wink he was out of sight.
“He’s gone,” Tom said, when he could no longer see the bird.
Tom’s dad stood by his son.
The second man picked up the cage and started toward an extended-cab pickup parked in the trees. The third man accompanied him.
Tom’s dad watched his son’s gaze cling to the spot where Rusty could last be seen. The eagle was gone… connection was gone. Tom’s dad put a gentle arm around his son and waited for him to let go of the letting go. Tom stifled a catch in his throat, turned and smiled at his father. Content that their task of bringing the big eagle to health and returning him to the wild was a wonderful success.
“You’ll see him again,” Tom’s dad said patting Tom on the shoulder and taking a step toward the pickup.
“I’ll watch for him… sometimes birds fly near me, when I hang glide. Maybe Rusty will…” Tom’s voice trailed off.
Rusty had almost forgotten what it is like to sail with the wind. His enormous outstretched wings rode brisk currents of air coming off the ocean. His ascent tested his repaired left wing. Though it was stiff, it functioned just fine. He circled above the spot where he’d been caged… where he’d been nursed back to health. Below he could see tiny images of the four bigs moving across the light colored sand toward the trees. He suspected that while he could see the bigs, they couldn’t see him. Nevertheless, he wobbled his wings hoping that Tom would catch his message of thanks. The strong tailwinds blowing east carried him quickly toward the vast carpet of trees covering the hills of the coastal mountain range.
In minutes he would find himself approaching Rogue Wilderness and Rainie Falls. There he would drop to the river to catch something to eat. The thought of snatching a plump salmon excited his taste buds. Tom had brought him salmon along with other fish, but the thrill of catching his own food from the rushing water brought him a familiar exhilaration… the thrill of being alive in his world where he could behave like eagles behave.
It was mid-afternoon when Rusty arrived at the grove of trees bordering Rainie Creek. He glided to settle on an upper branch of a tall fir tree.
His long stay in captivity challenged his ability to keep his balance. Ooops,” he gasped. The nimble branch swayed beneath his weight and threatened to dislodge him.
Once he settled he began scanning the depth of the pool of water below for signs of fish. He spotted several small trout swimming easily in the water but waited for a big fish to appear.
Finally, a large plump steelhead swam into view in the shadowy depths. It would be an easy catch for an expert fisherman like Rusty…
‘Rusty,’ he thought looking west toward the ocean. ‘Rusty, that’s what Tom named me.’
‘Rusty,’ he repeated in his mind. The word echoed… reverberating fresh against his old name, ‘Strike.’ Strike felt alien and harsh. The sound, ‘Rusty’ embodied Tom’s wish for the big eagle, “To treat other eagles like you want other eagles to treat you.”
It was a new way of thinking a new way of seeing. “… Treating other eagles like you want other eagles to treat you.” Though the idea as new, it made emerging sense to him. “Rusty,” Rusty said letting the two syllables hang in his mouth. “But what about salmon… they aren’t eagles?”
He looked again into the water. The salmon was gone. He’d have to wait for another big one or take several small ones. “Appetizers” Tom would call them. A sizable trout swam from beneath a maple tree root growing in the shallow water near the creek’s south bank.
‘What about fish?’ he thought. ‘Do they treat other fish like they want to be treated?’ He’d seen fish leap from the water to snatch flying bugs out of the air and devour them, seemingly, without a thought. What about what bugs feel?
Rusty sat for a long while contemplating what to do. He was hungry and knew that if he didn’t eat, he would grow weak and eventually die. ‘It’s the way of the world’ he thought settling the matter for the moment. ‘Fish eat bugs and other fish, coyotes eat deer and frogs eat anything they can get their mouths around.’
Before he’d hit the wire and broken his wing – when he was Strike – he had never given it a thought… but now he knew how to reason… reason like a big… well, like Tom. And reasoning like Tom had changed him. He was Strike… Now, he is “Rusty.”
Another trout. ‘Easy taking…’ he thought… then said out loud, “Yes, I am Rusty and I have no choice… no choice but to behave like an eagle. It’s the way of the world.” Then dropping from his perch, he dove into the water and grasped the trout with his talons. He lifted the flopping prey from the water, flew to settle on a large rock at water’s edge where he quickly shredded and devoured the helpless fish.
Rusty knew that to satisfy their hunger his kettle of eagles had already been to this creek and many others snaking down the mountainsides. He was certain that the young eagles were now likely clustered in trees not far away. He wondered what his friends thought about his disappearance. He’d been away from his home habitat a long time… so long that he suspected that they wondered if he would ever return.
“Friends!” Could he really call them that? Friends like one another… Friends look out for one another. He liked the eagles of Rogue River Wilderness. He considered them to be friends. They were the only eagles he had known…. the only birds… he had really known. Yes, he liked them… but he wondered if they liked him.
Before he’d disappeared he’d bullied them…even abused them… treated them like slaves.
He wondered how they would react to his return and to his surprise he wondered how he would react to them. He would soon find out. Encountering them was just a matter of time.
They would likely be gathered in and around the gray old growth snag that rose like a god above the second growth timber growing near March Meadows, the young Rogue River eagles’ gathering place.
Rusty jumped from his perch, caught the air with his wings, and began his climb. He circled over the creek and headed south toward March Meadows.
A few minutes later he spotted the gang of young Rogue eagles perched on trees near the old snag. Rodney Eagle occupied the lone bare branch jutting from the snag’s top. He glided past the snag circling it looking for others of the wilderness gang. Gordon and Lester sat in the upper branches of a tall spruce. Eric, and an eagle Rusty didn’t know, occupied a hemlock not far away.
“Hey, it’s Strike!” Lester shouted and quickly dropped from his perch to the ground below where he scampered under the heavy branches.
“We thought you got lost,” Eric said watching Rusty settle on a tall Douglas fir near the snag.
“You’re not dead? You been gone forever!” Lester blurted showing alarm.
“Yeah… gone a long time,” Rusty said calmly, “How is it with all of you?”
There was silence.
“Who’s your friend?” Rusty asked breaking the silence. He eyed the new eagle that sat large on a fallen log near the snag.
“He’s Fork,” Rodney said dropping to land near the stranger, “and he has allegiance to me,” Rodney concluded defiantly.
“Why?” Rusty asked mildly and added, “Why would he have allegiance to anyone but himself?”
Ignoring the conciliatory tone of Rusty’s questions, Rodney challenged. “You used to be king of Rogue River Wilderness, but not any more. I’m King of the Mountain now.”
“Really?” Rusty asked calmly.
“Yeah, really! Ask them,” Rodney challenged.
Rusty looked at Gordon, Lester, Eric and finally at Fork. The four eagles looked at Rodney and then at one another.
“Yeah Strike,” Eric said meekly, “Rodney’s taken over.”
“Unless you want to challenge him,” Lester said meekly.
“Yeah, unless you want to challenge me!” Rodney goaded flopping within range of Rusty’s powerful talons. He looked at the scar on Rusty’s left wing and snorted, “What’s wrong with your wing?” Then, he snapped, “… You crippled now… can’t fly high?”
Rusty’s insides bristled. When he was Strike, he would have torn into the sassy challenger and ripped him to bits… He resisted the impulse to lash out. Now, he, Rusty Eagle saw no value in being King of the Mountain.
“King of the Mountain,” Rusty said matter-of-factly. He looked steadily into Rodney’s eye and added, “Is that all you want to be?”
“You don’t know what you are saying,” Eric said questioning Strike.
“Yeah, what’s better than being King of the Mountain?” Gordon asked.
“King of yourself! That’s better and harder,” Rusty said softly as much to himself as to the others.
“Ha… you hear that? Strike is a chicken hawk. That’s what he is… a sniveling, weak legged chicken hawk…” Rodney baited preparing to take flight.
“No… I’m not a chicken hawk… though there’s nothing wrong with being a chicken hawk,” Rusty said calmly in response. He turned to Fork and added, “Now… I’m Rusty… that’s all. And that’s enough. And you are Fork and that ought to be enough for you.”
Fork looked at Rusty perplexed.
“Awe… Come on!” Rodney commanded, and taking to the air shouted, “Let’s see who can get to the zenith the quickest.”
Rodney was away. The others followed one by one leaving Rusty and Fork perched on the log.
Fork was confused.
“It’s okay… you may have to break a wing before you understand,” Rusty said kindly.
“You must be a chicken hawk … to believe that,” Fork said hopping into the air and away in an attempt to catch the others.
Rusty sat for a while thinking about what had just happened. In his absence Rodney had taken over as leader of the young eagles of Rogue River Wilderness.
He thought that ought to make him resentful. Yes, angry. Strike would be angry. He would fight to regain what he’d lost… the heady superiority… King of the Mountain.
But he wasn’t resentful… He thought of Tom and what the kind, little big had done for him.
He didn’t feel sad. No, he was now Rusty Eagle and that was enough. He didn’t need to be King of the Mountain anymore. Instead of resentment and anger a surge of excitement welled up within him.
Tom had helped him open his mind to wonder and now he would find out what that meant.
The older eagles had spoken of vast forests and rivers that extended in all directions beyond his Rogue River Wilderness … and they spoke of animals of every description. Sage Eagle spoke of a deep, wide river to the north that flowed from blue mountains on the eastern horizon to open waters of the west.
Rusty would test his wonder by going there.
He spread his huge wings. They caught a shaft of wind, lifted him into the air… gaining altitude and more altitude… altitude enough to survey the whole of what had been his world, Rogue River Wilderness.
The stiff breeze carried him quickly to the north… over lakes, rivers, mountains forests he’d never seen before.
– Morris Pike©2014 See bio
*This story was inspired by Albany Oregon farmers Dave and Darlene Chambers, who experienced their own successful bald eagle rescue.