Pigs and eagles—both are as inseparable from the Harley lifestyle as oil and grease on your pant leg. While pigs, a.k.a. hogs, are easy to find, delicious and at times somewhat less than majestic in their pastimes, eagles are freedom incarnate.
In 1967 the American Bald Eagle was declared an endangered species. As a responsible second grader at that time, this was of great concern to me. I very much dreamed of seeing a bald eagle one day when I was old enough to go to the Rocky Mountains or Alaska or any of the other romantic, exotic locations where these magnificent birds of prey that adorned the flip side of my milk-money quarter soared against a sky of vivid blue. At that age, I wondered if they really grasped arrows in one foot and olive branches in the other, but hoped that one day, when I actually saw one, I’d find out.
This past summer, my bride of 31 years saw her first bald eagle on the shores of Lake Erie as we were touring the Erie Land Lighthouse, a 49-foot structure built in 1867 to guard the land side of the Lake Erie harbor. She was on the catwalk facing the water as the eagle swooped down to grab a quick lunch from the lake. I was inside the tower snooping around and missed the whole thing but have been reminded of it regularly since then through the magic of smartphone camera imagery. She even has sequential shots of the bird swooping down, snatching its lunch and flying away. It was very exciting, yet I was disappointed that I’d been so close to seeing an eagle in action and missed it. I did see two blackbirds as I rattled around the cramped interior of the lighthouse for a better view of what all the fuss was about out on the catwalk. Damn it.
My quest to see an eagle had been escalated now. Armed with the knowledge that I no longer had to travel to Alaska to see one, I started casually asking others if they’d ever seen one. More often than not the answer came back as some variation of, “Sure, there’s one along the railroad tracks” or “Sure, there’s one at the lake all the time.” And so I knew it was possible and missing one opportunity on Lake Erie would not defeat my dream of one day seeing a bald eagle I could call my own.
As luck would have it, I was meeting a friend at a coffee shop late one afternoon in September in the downtown area of my hometown of New Castle, Pennsylvania. After I’d parked, I noticed everyone gazing up in the air, looking like the Peanuts gang singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas. At first, I was concerned. New Castle doesn’t have what you would call an inspiring skyline and the only reason I could think of to look up in the air was if something was unexpectedly descending from the sky. But, I looked up.
And there it was: my bald eagle! I watched, mesmerized, as it soared upwards riding the thermals. I’m not sure if it ever flapped a wing and it appeared to have powers greater than gravity as it rose against a backdrop of the late-summer greenery of New Castle North Hill and a sky as blue as any I’ve seen. Imagine; a bald eagle right here in my hometown, making my personal eagle sighting even more special than it would have been if Denali would have been in the background as I had always imagined.
The eagle was everything I ever hoped it would be as I took on the posture of the Peanuts gang too so I could better enjoy the moment. It was inspiring and riveting. I wanted to cheer; to celebrate.
My eagle was eventually joined by a smaller bird that I can only imagine was a close friend or relative since it was not immediately plucked from the sky, clenched in those mighty talons usually reserved for gripping arrows and olive branches. Together they spiraled upwards until soon they were mere dots in the afternoon sky—just like my smartphone image of them but if you zoom in real close you can tell.
Our national bird and the bird of the biker lifestyle is back. As it turns out, the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007. Someone should have called me. I bet the kids in second grade knew.
I suspect all eagle sightings are special and exciting. The inspiration provided by these magnificent creatures is the reason they are our nation’s symbol of strength and beauty and the reason they are the raptors of choice for bikers.
It was magical and the most incredible coincidence of all was that the date was September 11.