Defenders of Wildlife

The Eagle in Winter

The Eagle in Winter
The Eagle in Winter

The Eagle in Winter

Every year in the Lake Tahoe Basin, as snow descends and hordes of people take to the slopes to enjoy some of the best skiing in the United States, a magical event occurs that few notice.

The bald eagle returns to its winter feeding grounds.

When I first bought my second home in Tahoe with my partner, we were told the eagle's return was a myth. Decades of human encroachment into the Tahoe Basin area had put an end to the eagle's passage, as bald eagles are solitary creatures who avoid densely populated areas. Three years came and went without any sight of the elusive predator; and though we enjoyed the skiing in the winter and fantastic hikes in the summer, we always passed the meadow near our home, with its federal sign: DO NOT TRESPASS. BALD EAGLE FEEDING GROUND, with sadness. The meadow is vast, carved by a watershed, with a coppice of skeletal beeches in the winter - ducks and Canadian geese, coyotes and foxes, reside in the area year-long. I would glance toward the trees and try to imagine a time when the eagles had been there as well, like sentinels.

Then one day last year in winter, as we walked our dog through snowdrifts, something large passed over us. The very size of the shadow skidding across the snow alerted us, and we looked up. To our amazement, a large eagle with huge wings swooped directly over us in majestic silence. It was the most incredible sight-- the symbol of America, the very being whom we had nearly pushed to extinction and has made a precarious, courageous return, was flying over us, and it was every bit as awesome a sight as I had imagined.

He or she proceeded into the meadow to perch within the coppice of beech - atop an old, dead tree whose top had been blasted away years ago by a storm. We stood, mesmerized, as the eagle sat there, the gorgeous white head with amber eyes alert, focused on the meadow below, where no doubt a delectable menu of rodents even then scrambled to get out of its path. We returned every afternoon to the same spot, and every day saw the eagle going out its business. Toward early March, it disappeared.

But we'll be looking for it again this year, when the temperatures drop and the mountains turn white. Even if we don't see it, just to know that it is there, gracing the skies, free and wild, makes me happier than I can describe.

It just proves that Nature lives everywhere around us, even when we think she is not.

 

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