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J. David Breemer, Class of 2001
The "Eagle's Disease" grew out of the belief that modern conservation laws often fall hardest on those who love (and therefore own) large undeveloped tracts of land. This belief developed, in part, from my experiences living in the foothills of central California. In this region, I met many people who had forsaken the opportunities and conveniences of modern suburban life and adopted scorching summers and cold winters for open space and the independence it provides. They loved the land, but unlike the white-picketed yards an hour away, did not treat it as a museum. On the contrary, "yards" were often filled with old parts that would probably never be touched again and old cars that probably needed the old parts. One should be careful, however, in viewing such landscaping techniques as evidence of lack of respect for the land, as only those who are accustomed to throwing things out and replacing them the minute they outlast their immediate usefulness (itself evidence of a certain level of respect for the land) can afford to patronize in this fashion.
In any case, if not clearly apparent in the physical status of private property, love of the land was evident in the relationship of the people to the wildlife in the area. Animals - bobcats, deer, coyote, the occasional mountain lion, hawks, and rattlesnakes - were a part of life and a reason for staying. This is changing, as many who depend on the economic use of land for their livelihood now fear the presence of the very animals, such as eagles, that best represent the freedom one can enjoy in rural California. Without knowing much about the technical aspects of federal environmental laws, many ranchers and farmers have rightly sensed that evidence of such animals on their land is an invitation for government to interfere with their traditional way of life. Thus, the Endangered Species Act creates a disincentive for protection on the part of those best positioned to make a real impact. This tension has birthed opposing extremist camps, both of whom would bring about similar undesirable outcomes if left unchecked.
When the sun finally broke free from the dark bonds of the Sierra, its late spring rays fell through a window and came to rest on Henry Madison's head. For a moment, his gray hair brightened and the hard creases around his eyes softened and seemed to ebb away. But like the light, the moment passed quickly. Henry stirred in the heat and then slowly pulled himself out of bed. Rubbing his eyes, he went to the window and confirmed what his joints already knew - it was going to be hot. Not one cloud split the deep blue sky that stretched from his room to the distant peaks of the Sierra Nevada. He stared at the immense and foreboding slabs of granite. Only a month ago they had been covered with a solid sheet of snow. Now, like the rainbow of wildflowers that withered in his yard, only a few traces of snow held out against the current heat wave. Neither loss bothered him too much. He knew the land would be beautiful even when the grass was burnt brown and the soil a hardened crust. As he thought of the seasons that he might yet see, the memory of the promise that he'd made seeped into his consciousness. He pushed it away.
Turning from the window, he watched his dog amble into the room. When it saw Henry, it scurried over and shoved a wet nose into his dry and wrinkled hands.
"Mornin' Dog," Henry said. He bent over and gave the animal a scratch on the ear. The dog rubbed against the hand and then impatiently paced a circle while his master tugged on a pair of old pants. Like Henry, the dog knew that time was short. By early afternoon, the sun's tyranny would drive even the most hardy rattlesnakes and squirrels deep into the earth. There'd still be the random lizard, but that normally wasn't enough to move the dog from his afternoon dirt hole. Morning was the time. The dog ran to the door, turned around, and stared accusingly as Henry tugged at his boots.
"Ok, ok. We're goin' already."
As he walked up the old dirt driveway, Henry inhaled deeply of the morning air. Sweet mountain clover filled his lungs. Off the road, the dog bounded from one granite outcropping to another, driven by the scent of unseen rodents. Henry watched as the dog found a particularly interesting hole, scratched frantically at the earth and then stuck his nose deep inside to see how much farther he had to go. Unaware that his master was steadily moving away, the dog repeated the cycle.
"C'mon Blue!” Henry yelled behind him. The dog looked up, wagged his tail and promptly stuck his nose back in the dirt.
Blue sprang up and tore down the hillside, cutting a swath through knee-high tarweed. Henry grimaced. The stuff was way too high. It should've been cut down weeks ago, but he hadn't gotten to it and he wasn't going to get to it; he just ached too much to sit on a mower anymore, much less to stand and hack away with a weed-eater. He thought that maybe the next owner would get to it, and this time he couldn't resist the memory’s pull. His daughter had come over from the coast for a few days last weekend or the weekend before that. The house was dirty, she'd said. When she cleaned up, she found two-month old food in the fridge. And at some point, she found out that he'd missed a doctor's appointment. That did it. She cornered him in the living room.
He remembered her soft voice when she'd said, "Daddy? I want you to come live with us for a while." And her hand on his knee. "I can't get up here all the time and I'm worried about you being all alone. You know you missed an appointment with Dr. Carroll this week?"
"Hmm-mm," he'd lied. "I must've forgot to write it down."
There was moisture in her eyes then. "Well, its stuff like that that scares me. Dad," she'd sighed. "Brad and I have been thinking about adding a separate apartment onto the house. And you could stay in the guest room until then. I'm sure the kids would love to see you more. Money's tight, but we . . . you could sell the property and . . ."
"Honey," he'd interrupted, taking her into his arms, "I'll go."
It just came out. He didn't know how or why, but there it was. He kicked halfheartedly at an old pinecone. Maybe it was time. It'd been three years since his wife died. He missed having people around, especially at dinnertime.
Although it wasn't far, Henry's legs ached by the time he approached the top of the rise. Blue was already sitting there looking down the other side. When he arrived, Henry panted with his dog and stared down the grade toward the waters of the San Joaquin River. Scanning up from the river, his eye caught a flash of white in a strand of Bull pines about fifty yards away. Perched in a nest high among the branches, a bald eagle gazed toward Henry and the dog, carefully gauging the threat. Henry smiled at the bird.
"Still here are ya?" he called out. As if in answer, a cry echoed on the air, and a brilliant form rose up from the trees. Henry watched the eagle circle above. Suddenly it dove toward the river and then shot straight back up a moment later. When it returned to the tree, Henry thought he could make out something in his mouth.
"She's a beauty, huh, Blue," he said. The dog pushed his head onto Henry's lap.
Henry stared closely at the bird. He'd seen eagles in this area of the property before, but this one was especially near his home. And judging from the nest, it didn't look like it was ready to leave anytime soon. He wondered if there was a mate around somewhere. Realizing that he might not stick around long enough to find out, he picked up a rock and threw it down the hill. Blue watched with interest, but decided it was getting too hot to chase rocks. He flopped down in a shady area next to the log and lowered his head onto his paws.
The voice was low, hostile.
Startled, Dennis Foreman looked up from the car door he was poised to open and saw a large man standing about ten yards away. Positioned between Dennis' truck and the road, the man stood stock still, boot-adorned legs planted in the dirt, arms crossed, a cowboy hat pulled back on his head. An old Ford truck was parked on the other side of the road. Dennis could see a rifle hanging in the cab. He groaned. Another couple of minutes and he'd have been gone.
“I said, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING ON MY LAND?!?"
Pushing his shirt into his pants so that the pistol that hung from his belt was clearly visible, he turned to face the cowboy. "I'm with Fish and Wildlife."
"I don't care if you're with the goddamn U.S. Army," the cowboy said. He began walking toward Dennis. "You're trespassing on private property." He stepped to his right and stared silently at the Fish and Wildlife symbol emblazoned on the side of the passenger door.
"Look," Dennis said, "I just hiked up that ridge over there looking for eagle nests. We're making an assessm-"
“I wouldn’t care if you were looking for the Holy Grail,” the cowboy breathed. “You got no right to be here.”
Dennis frowned and crossed his arms. "Actually, it’s lawful for me to be here."
The cowboy spat and walked around the bed of the truck. His lips curled into a half-smile as he took up a position directly in front of Dennis.
"Lemme see your warrant," he snarled.
Dennis shifted uncomfortably. He resisted the urge to finger his holster. "I don't need one. I have authority under the Endangered Species Act. If you hang on a second I can get the paperwork.”
While Dennis spoke, the half-smile faded from the cowboy’s face. After a moment he looked down and a stream of brown juice squirted from his mouth. The tobacco splattered just in front of Dennis’ shoes. When he looked up, their eyes locked.
“Get off my land,” he said. “Now!”
Dennis began to protest, but then thought better of it. There were no eagles here; there was nothing to be gained by staying any longer. He turned and eased himself into the front seat. As he started the car, the man spat a brown glob onto the side of the truck.
Dennis hit the gas and roared through an opening in the barbwire fence. "What the hell is wrong with these people!" he said aloud as he watched the cowboy recede in the rearview mirror. Didn't they want to protect the environment? He snatched a handful of sunflower seeds from a crumpled pack and jammed them into his mouth. When the Department granted his request to transfer out west to take part in the monitoring of endangered species, he'd been overjoyed. Finally, he was getting out of the office to make a real difference. But since coming up here, all he'd gotten was a bunch of crap. He crunched down hard on the seeds. Were they all just crazy or was it him? He leaned forward to check himself in the side mirror. Maybe his black hair was a little too long and his face a little too shaven. He frowned at his image. Why should he care what they thought? His job was to save eagles, not to win the redneck popularity contest.
With renewed resolve, he spit the seeds through the window and pulled a map onto his lap. From it, he could see that he was moving closer to the river, which, he realized, was where he’d probably have to go to find eagles. He decided that was why he didn’t find anything earlier. He was too far from water. He looked up and out in the general direction of the river. Behind barbed wire fences, dry and golden land rolled toward the horizon. Ancient and ever present oaks dotted the golden sea, providing shade for cattle that grazed lazily in the heat or that sat alone and dreamed of the coming winter and its promised rain. Every now and then, a dilapidated old barn or modest single-story house gave evidence that the land was still ruled by human hands. Dennis shook his head at the junk that surrounded the structures; there was an old car that looked like it hadn’t run in fifty years, a pile of tires in someone’s back yard, a rotting stack of wood in the middle of nowhere.
There were eagles out there somewhere beyond it all, Dennis assured himself. A truck loaded with giant pine trunks roared past. He imagined that that was how the animals would die: habitat carelessly destroyed by man's unending desire for wood, for land, for development, for dominance. His foot pressed down on the gas pedal as a familiar sense of urgency began to overwhelm him; only individual sacrifice could save the environment, only courage could save humanity from itself. And meanwhile, people were crying about the government coming onto their property, he bitterly reminded himself. How ironic it would be if "real Americans" like the cowboy caused an American symbol to die for their precious private property "rights." He wouldn't let it happen. He'd walk over every inch of riverside land if that's what it took. But first he’d get a little lunch.
As he listened to the sound of the wind and the hum of his 1973 Datsun pickup (only 25,000 miles), Henry's thoughts slid by like the pavement under his wheels. It was one of the reasons he still enjoyed driving; there was something about the motion that caused a man to think a little more about his place in the world. He looked out at the parched hills. He'd been in these parts for so long it was hard to imagine living anywhere else. The memory of coming to the land when he was thirty with only the promise of a job working on the canal and government housing for shelter crept into his mind. Course, the housing turned out to be a one-room, tin-roofed shack in the middle of the hottest damn valley he'd ever seen. But they made it, got pregnant even and one day drove up the hill looking for a nice piece of land to raise a family. When he saw that flat area tapering down to the river, he knew it was the one. They saved and when it came up for sale, bought. Cheap. It was a good thing too, because they needed all their money for the house that he would build with his own two hands. He pulled at his cap as he remembered the first pour. He'd never seen sweeter concrete since. They moved in a year later and Heather got pregnant again. Boy, were they happy, he thought. Happy and . . .
The sound of a loud horn jerked him back to the present. Looking in the rear view mirror, he saw a large red pickup riding his tail and flashing its lights. It appeared to be pulling an even larger boat. He looked at his speedometer and saw that he was going about 40 mph. He decided it was fast enough.
The horn sounded again. Hgnaaaah!
For a moment, Henry fantasized about slamming on his brakes. Then they'd see how quick they'd get to that tourist-trap lake, he told himself. But the red monster sped by almost as quickly as the thought.
Watching the truck weave along the winding road ahead, Henry remembered when people used to enjoy a slow drive in the country. But then a lot of things had changed since he first came here. It was still pretty quiet, but the city was creeping up and people were swarming all over the hills on the weekends trying to get away from their boring city lives. He shook his head and thought how old he sounded. What was that saying? The only constant is change. Change is here to stay. Something like that. It was true. Practically the only thing that was the same was him and his house. Maybe it was time for that to change too.
A flash of insight came over him. He'd felt it enough in his life to know what it meant: he had stumbled on something important, a sliver of truth. Everything living must change - only the dead remain the same. He wasn't dead yet. He turned the thought over in his mind like a gold miner marveling at the nugget he had just found. An unspoken fear began to subside. Next time his daughter called, he would reassure her. He was ready to change. A mischievous smile formed on his lips as he hit the gas and gave chase.
Henry liked the forgotten thrill of speed so much that it took an effort not to go barreling through town on his way to the library. Yet, when he saw the outline of the Redfern Community Church, habit took over. He pumped the brakes and slowed down. It just wouldn't be right to go speeding past a place that had been so good to him when his wife died. He watched the neat lawn and the cross slowly give way to the old General Store and past that, the little Mexican restaurant. The restaurant really wasn't much to look at. Just an old single-story, large white shack. Nothing fancy about it. But it was the only successful restaurant to ever set up shop in Redfern. On Saturdays at the Mexican place he could fill up on enchiladas and talk to almost everyone he knew. His stomach rumbled in assent. He looked at the library books stacked on the passenger seat and then checked his watch. He had a half hour before it closed. He decided the library could wait until tomorrow. He was hungry.
After parking, Henry got out and strolled slowly toward the restaurant door. As he contemplated the pros and cons of the enchilada and the tostada, a car pulled into the restaurant lot. When the sound of a large engine drew close, Henry looked over his shoulder and watched a white Ford F-150 slide into a spot next to his own truck. A large man wearing a cowboy hat jumped out of the driver side.
“Henry! Henry Madison!”
Henry carefully examined the approaching figure. "Hey Henry!"
Henry took a step forward as he recognized the man. "Howdy, Ron. Long time no see."
Ron squeezed Henry's outstretched hand a bit too hard. "Damn right it’s been a long time, Henry. It's good to see you!" His friendly grin revealed a black wad stuck between his lower teeth. "I didn't know if you was still around," Ron said enthusiastically and then, more soberly, "Lot of old timers ain't, you know."
"Yeah. I guess the good Lord's not ready for me yet, Ron," Henry replied. "So what are you up to these days?" he added. "Still runnin' cattle on that land of yours?"
"Yes sir. Got a hundred head right now. Thinking about going up even more, but I don't have enough land right now. Why? You want some jerky?"
"Oh no. Guess I just like to know what's goin on.” Henry paused. "And I'm trying to figure out what to do with mine. "
"What's that mean?"
Henry looked closely at Ron. After a moment he said, "I'm thinking about sellin' my property."
"Well...” Henry sighed. "Its kind of a long story. I was just about to get some lunch when you pulled up, so."
"Well, I suppose I could use a little grub, too," Ron interrupted. He reached past Henry and pulled the door open. "Age before beauty."
A waft of cold air hit them as they moved into the restaurant. Henry looked around and saw that, except for a black head of hair resting against a corner booth, the place was empty.
They took a table and ordered. “You been there a long time, huh?” Ron asked.
"About fifty years."
"Huh. That is a damn long time."
"Yep, it is," Henry nodded. He caught Ron's eyes. "You know anyone around here that's looking to buy some land?"
Ron leaned back against the padded booth. "Well, like I said, Henry, I might be looking for a little land. But I don't know. I mean it ain't easy running a cattle operation on private land these days. The damn government takes half of it in taxes, and if you want to build a barn or corral you got to go through the county and state." He gulped down half a glass of water, "And if you're real unlucky, the goddamn EPA will come and take it all away."
Henry looked skeptical.
"Its true. Hell, just the other day, I caught some little bastard from Fish and Wildlife snooping around on my land looking for eagles."
"Eagles?” Henry repeated. "Why?"
"Said he was ‘checking for nests'. Fortunately, he didn't find any, so I kicked him in the ass and sent him on his way." Ron scooped up a handful of chips from a bowl in the center of the table. "I don't know what this country's comin' to when the government cares more about animals than with people trying to make an honest living off the land." He stuffed the chips into his mouth.
"I got an eagle on my land."
Ron froze with his hand halfway back to the chip bowl. He stared hard at Henry. "What?"
"I say, I got an eagle on my land. Big 'ol bald eagle. So?"
Ron leaned forward. "So," he said in a low voice, "its an endangered frikken' species. If they find out, you can forget about selling your land."
Henry raised his eyebrows. "What are you talking about, Ron? "
"You never heard about the guy down in the valley who couldn’t plow any of his land because they found some rats on it?” Ron stared at Henry in disbelief. "Nobody in their right mind would want land with endangered species on it after that. "
“Well,” Henry replied, “I don’t know. Maybe I have heard a little about all that on the news. But it seems like people buy land with endangered species on it all the time.”
“Sure they do. But do they know it?”
Dennis Foreman couldn't believe his luck. Hunger had driven him into the little Mexican restaurant despite the smell, and now the only other guys to come into the whole place were talking about eagles on their land. He turned his ear in the direction of their voices and listened.
“Hell, Henry, I’ve heard of people shooting eagles just so they can keep the feds out of their business. Can't say I blame 'em."
There was a moment of silence and then the other said, "Seems a little extreme. Some folks like animals on their land. I do."
"Well, yeah, maybe so. But you wouldn't like them as much if you knew that the federal government can use them to tell you how to use your land. Or to stop you all together. That's what endangered species is all about, Henry. Government control of private land. " The paranoid sounded just like the cowboy, Dennis decided. Or else his twin brother. He resisted the urge to turn around and look.
"I mean, if you had the choice, would you buy land with endangered species on it?"
"I don't know," Henry replied after a moment. "Well, I wouldn't. Hell, I don't think I know anyone that would." Dennis strained to follow the conversation as the voices got lower.
"Only one of them right now. "
The one who sounded like the cowboy said something Dennis couldn't understand.
"About two years," Henry replied.
Dennis realized they were talking about the eagle. But where was it? If he could find out, he'd be out there so fast it'd make their heads spin. He thought about what he could do when he found the bird. The cowboy proved that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing, but Dennis knew there was some truth in what he said. The Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to "take" certain animals, and, according to Fish and Wildlife, "taking" an animal can mean as little as changing its habitat. If the guy had altered the bird's natural area he could be arrested, fined $25,000 per violation and maybe even have his property seized. Seizure would be best, Dennis thought happily. Then there'd really be no chance of harm coming to the wildlife. He knew that some people thought such punishment was harsh, especially when the crime was modifying habitat, rather than actually killing an animal, but Dennis saw the rules as a tremendous victory. After all, he asked himself, when compared to the benefits to society that come from saving endangered species, how important was the individual's privilege to use his land as he desired? Hardly worth a thought; in his view, the only problem with the law was that a person could apply for a permit to “take” a species during the course of construction or some other lawful activity. Of course, the permit took some time and almost always came with expensive conditions, so this guy might not be able to go that route either. Dennis smiled to himself. When he found the bird, he'd do his best to make sure nothing would be done to that land to hurt that eagle . . . but, wait, what are they saying?
“ . . . take care of it . . . might be interested . . . all it takes is a thirty-ought-six . . . nobody knows.”
Henry wasn’t so quiet. “I’m not sure I could do that, Ron,” he said.
"Well," Ron said emphatically, "I understand that. But you know, sometimes it's you or them, Henry. They ain't even really endangered, anyway. Supposedly they're threatened, but I think that's just a bunch of bull. I see 'em all the time."
The conversation continued, but nothing more was said about the eagle or the land it was on. It was mostly weather and high school football. Dennis stewed over the situation. Without the location, he couldn't go straight there. And if they left at the same time, he might not be able to follow the one guy without getting spotted by the other. But the waitress might know where the guy lived. He could ask casually. Even say he was interested in the land or something. He imagined her saying something like "Oh, Henry? Sure, he lives right down the road about twenty miles. Look for the Ponderosa Ranch sign." He looked at her. She hadn't been all that friendly to him. But perhaps a big tip would help.
Dennis' thoughts were cut short when the cowboy asked for the check. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the waitress amble over. A few moments later, there was a rustling and the scrape of boots on linoleum. They were leaving. When the door creaked open, he could resist no longer. He jerked his head around in time to see the two men walking out into the parking lot. One was definitely the same cowboy. The other was smaller and a lot older. He wore a baseball cap, old polyester pants and a plain white t-shirt. That must be Henry, he decided. He kind of looked like a nice old guy. But what he was like didn't matter. He stood and watched as Henry got into a small blue truck and pulled onto the road. A moment later, a familiar Ford truck sped out in the opposite direction. Dennis threw a twenty onto the table and rushed out the door.
The ride away from town was slow and uneventful. Dennis worried that the cowboy might come back and somehow ruin it all at the last moment, but nothing happened. He just stayed behind the Datsun and waited. About twenty minutes south of town, the old guy braked and turned right onto a smaller one-lane road. When he got to the intersection, Dennis slowed to a crawl and watched the Datsun get ahead. Above him, a bullet-riddled street sign said "Paradise Road." Dennis thought it might come close if people didn't blast away at all the signs.
When the blue truck was far enough down the road, he eased his foot onto the gas pedal. They were almost there. He could feel it. Sure enough, a second later, the old guy stopped to unlock a gate on the right side of the road. Then he got back in and turned onto a dirt road. Dennis watched the dust rise as the Datsun climbed the mild slope. A moment later, he pulled up next to the gate. It looked locked. But there was a mailbox near it, so he took out a pen and wrote down the numbers on its side. 37177 Paradise Road. Soon it would be entered into a computer and then, if there really were endangered species around, the old guy could forget about building anything anytime soon. Sure, it might make it harder for him to sell the land, but that was his problem. He looked at the map. Paradise Road dead-ended in the direction of the river, so the old guy's, or rather, the eagle's land probably straddled the river too. Perfect. After parking the truck farther down the road, he grabbed a small pack with binoculars, camera and water and squeezed through the barbwire fence that separated the road from the property.
When he got home from his meeting with Ron, Henry didn’t feel like doing anything. He felt drained. It had been a long ride home, but he knew it was more than that. He felt frustrated and insecure, his hopes endangered. Even the dog’s persistent scratching at the door couldn’t rouse him from the funk. He was tired, he told himself. He was still hot. They’d go on a walk tomorrow. He spent the afternoon napping and later flipped on the news. War in Russia, abuse in China, madmen at home. But the economy's great. So why worry about the law, he wondered. But he was worried. He knew Ron had a tendency to exaggerate, but there had to be a reason why so many people were afraid of endangered species. And he wasn't getting any younger. If it was true, could he could afford to wait until someone came along who didn't care about the bird? When the phone rang, Henry ignored it, but couldn't resist listening with one ear as the machine came on. It was Ron. Something about the property. Henry struggled up and walked toward the phone.
". . . lawyer friend. Said you have to tell any buyers about the . . . problem. By the way, I heard that the Fish and Wildlife jerk was in town today. So be careful . . . well, you know what I'd do. I know it ain't very honorable, but hell, a man's gotta take care of himself. What's one bird compared to your right to live your life? Anyway, I'll give you a ring later on, I guess."
Henry stared at the phone as the voice ended. After a moment, he pushed the message button. He was surprised when the voice that came out wasn't Ron's. It was his daughter's. She missed him. Wanted him to call soon. He walked away from the phone and stared out the window as Ron's message replayed. But he wasn't listening. Without thinking, he walked over to a high wood cabinet and opened it. Inside, three shiny rifles leaned against the back wall. He stared at them for a moment and then grabbed the largest. Stuffing a box of bullets into his pocket, he turned and headed toward the door. In the background, Dan Rather calmly proclaimed the rising price of land.
Outside, Henry stared toward the river. On its way to the sea, the late sun hovered lazily over the hills on the opposite side of the San Joaquin. He breathed deeply and listened. The land was quiet as it waited for the sun’s once-fierce rays to slowly paint a soft pink dream in the sky. In the distance, Henry thought he could hear the early, mournful cry of the coyote. Moved by a sudden urge, he looked up into the darkening sky and saw a large bird circling high above his house. As he watched the bird glide, Henry imagined it looking straight down on him, straight through him. He felt like prey.
The dog jumped around him excitedly as they headed up the hill. Blue smelled the gunpowder and knew what it meant; it was the promise of raw meat. Henry stroked the barrel and watched the light begin to fade from the sky. The gun was a thirty-ought-six; a large barrel meant for large animals. Here, it meant there would be little chance of suffering. If he hit the mark.
Henry's body shook as he crested the rise and looked down upon the pines. Far below, the water shone like dark glass. It was almost night down there, but, for the moment, light remained where he was. By it, he could see the bird sitting high in the tree. Henry felt weak. He’d secretly hoped that it would be gone so he’d be spared this moment.
But life wasn’t that easy. He mumbled an apology and slowly raised the rifle to his shoulder. The gun wavered unsteadily.
Halfway down the hill, Dennis Foreman put a pair of binoculars to his eyes and saw a man aiming a rifle in his direction. For a moment, he thought he was about to be shot. Then he realized the aim was too high. He followed the line of the barrel into the trees directly between him and the figure. There, he saw a spot of white. The eagle. The air sucked out of him and his chest suddenly felt incredibly empty.
The earth was still while Henry’s finger twitched near the trigger. In the scope, the bald eagle was large, close, beautiful. It was looking at something down the hill. When it turned to stare at Henry, it seemed strong and proud . . . unafraid of the circling disease. Tears welled in Henry’s eyes as he fell to his knees and clutched the hardened land.