I watched four or five seagulls hound and torment a bald eagle the other day. The gulls screamed their familiar squawk as they swerved and sparred, while the eagle steadily beat its path forward and upward. The eagle had ventured too low and too close to the gulls’ place of loitering and scavenge. Unceremoniously jeered, the eagle stubbornly regained its heights, majestic in its silence and solitude.
Have you ever heard the call of the bald eagle? I do not mean the predatory shriek that announces its presence to our collective imaginations, the scream that signifies its magnificence and triumph; I mean its call: a high-pitched twitter that sounds peculiar coming from a bird that occupies so profound a place in our collective symbolic thought. The shape and bearing of this bird approaches the supernatural, but its call reveals its earthliness.
And what of the cry of the seagull? It has but one voice, it varies only in volume, and is always a plea for something: food, chase, place, attention, anything it wants. It’s cry is as ever present as its want is insatiable. Silence in a seagull is rare, and substance when it speaks rarer still. Sublimity has never presented itself in the seagull. You might watch a seagull for a time, hoping for more; but what you ultimately get is exactly that: more seagulls. Seagulls love a crowd.
As they cry and crowd eachother their nuisance grows along with their numbers. Volume of both body and voice continues to rise, but adds nothing else…just more. Always more. They are ordinary by themselves and as a group they are simply more ordinary.
When the eagle condescends to descend from its heights and inspect what the clamour is for, the weight of their bodies and voices are sufficient to push it away. Why? Would the eagle take their place, space, position or attention? Of course it would. It is better suited to do so; in strength, in confidence, in distinctness. The eagle stands out and is fitted with the ability to defend its distinction. But, beneath that dignified exterior there is always that ordinary call. The eagle has this in common with the seagull, but also has something they do not…and they hate the eagle for it.
It is both for their commonality and their difference that the seagulls drive the eagle away. They cannot bear to be reminded that something so like themselves, so ordinary on the inside, can present itself so spectacularly. The hot air from their bodies and voices lift the eagle ever more upward and distant; far above their constant cries. The eagle never makes a sound. Its twitter would find no ears capable of understanding, and its shriek would only raise alarm in those who do not wish to be alarmed. The seagulls want to hear no shriek or twitter; they desire no reminder that they have anything in common with that which they are so far beneath. They only want it gone, and with its exit a return to their lassitude.
So the eagle climbs ever higher and becomes more distant, soaring silent in its solitude and sublimity. It rarely troubles to come close enough to be chased away. Every once and awhile, the eagle will descend again, and once more be chased away. But sometime, a precious sometime, during another infuriating chase, the predator will emerge. The eagle will roll on its back mid-flight, talons striking, taking white feathers and scattering pursuit as a prize. And then, it’s shriek fills the air, and all who hear it, and those who bear witness, know. But I wonder at this shriek, and whether it is not one for mercy than of victory.
May 12, 2015. Vancouver.