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Friday Feature: Soaring Clear Skies In All Directions

It’s another beautifully clear autumn day, this one slightly colder than the last. There were only a few faint strands of cloud to the east at dawn, soon driven out by a combination of wind and light. Now, the blue skies have returned, and with them birds large and small: the tiniest siskins, the finches, the juncos; the larger scrub jays; even my beloved red-tailed hawk.

Of course, such returns are not without incident. The new young birds in residence for the first time must learn to navigate human habitation close to the sanctuary of feeders and nests, and it brings some of them far closer to large structures than they have ever been. The flood of new arrivals has meant two collisions over the last two days: small young creatures who do not realize that glass windows are a barrier, not a breezeway. Yesterday, it was a junco; this morning, a siskin. Most often, it’s a momentary stunning and they fly off on their own, but these two were different, both having crashed into the glass with such force that they appeared to be dying in front of me.

Still, I can’t stand by and not try, so in each instance, I gently gathered the tiny being, held it my palm, kept it warm and gave it a safe space to rest and try to recover its breath and balance. I carried yesterday’s bird with me as I went about my work for probably forty minutes before it finally felt well enough to fly up to one of the aspens; today’s took fewer than fifteen to do the same. It’s an annual ritual here, one that reminds me continually that these small spirits congregate here because they feel safe, and it is up to us to make sure that their belief is in fact a truth.

They come from all directions, the wild birds, converging on this place in season, and now out of it, too, because climate change has rendered the boundaries of their internal schedules as permeable as we now know our borders are to pandemic. This year, we have had visitations by so many that do not normally stray this far off their usual path, and from so many more that have either arrived earlier or stayed far later than their more usual patterns dictate.

Some are more regular residents, of course, some larger and more powerful by any measure. We don’t get eagles this close to human habitation, typically, although every now and then one will take a turn overhead on its way between gorge and peaks. But the hawks are less bothered by our presence, and one small clan of red-tails has taken up mostly permanent residence here, a mated pair and a smaller sibling or cousin who joins them occasionally. The female of the group, though, has made herself entirely at home, such that she sometimes races alongside us on the highway to or from home, and when she hears our voices, she will wheel in mid-flight to come and circle overhead, greeting us with tipped wings and a full-throated skreeing cry. She is clearly both comfortable here and happy, too, and while she may spend her days soaring clear skies in all directions now, she always comes back to the center here, at her home and ours.

Our red-tailed resident is unusually large, even for her kind, and her plumage shifts subtly with the seasons. Now, her underside is mostly white, the feathers tipped with charcoal, her upper outer cloak autumn’s own deep rusty red, electric against a cornflower sky. Her colors remind me of today’s featured work, one wrought in the shape and spirit of her larger, more powerful cousin, the eagle. From its description in the Other Artists:  Sculpture gallery here on the site:

This vintage-style Eagle rises out of a chunk of Pilar slate to call to the spirits. Carved by Randy Roughface (Ponca), the finish is smooth like soapstone, manifest in an unusually soft red color smudged with the more typical gray. Stands 4.5″ high by 3″ wide at base (dimensions approximate).

Pilar slate
$125 + shipping, handling, and insurance

This eagle, of course, is not in flight; like its real-world counterparts who will now just be beginning to arrive at the Gorge for the cold months, it has found a safe perch from which to engage its world. In this instance, it seems gathered, perhaps in anticipation of flight, beak open as though offering a song or a prayer to the sky. The stone from which it emerges, small enough to hold in one’s hand, is cool to the touch, yet warms quickly, and its apparent surface color changes with the light: now gray, now brick, now mulberry, now touches of plum here and there. It reminds me of the red-tail’s feathers in the light, a spectrum that runs from snow to amber to fire to night.

At the moment, neither the snow nor the night is present; the light is pure gold, and in a couple of hours, it’ll turn to flame. For now, the birds are busy soaring clear skies in all directions, but like us, they always return to the center, and home.

~ Aji








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