There was a hallway a thousand birds long, but the biggest one of all was in a cage too small.
– Patrick Watson

My eagle died last Tuesday. He was hit by a bus on the 520 bridge. News reports said he flew directly into the windshield – the driver just kept on going.

Only once did I ever see him fly. I will never forget, because it was on the day we met.

I say that he was “my eagle,” but of course he was not. It is illegal to own an eagle unless you are a zoo.

He belonged to no one, though he meant everything to me, so I called him mine. As if that made it so.

The day we met I was bound for a business meeting, heading eastward over the bridge in that familiar, stop-and-go crawl of morning traffic. As was my daily routine, I had dialed my best friend on speakerphone for company.

Looking south and hoping to spot Mount Rainier, I caught a glimpse of something overhead through the sunroof.

I leaned forward, craning head and neck over steering wheel, looking skyward, trying to steer safely.

I interrupted Lisa mid-sentence: “Hang on! Hang on … I see a bald eagle! He just flew right overhead and landed on a light pole! Oh, I wish you could see this, he’s amazing!”

“An eagle, really? In the city like that? That’s awesome,” she said.

I was immediately sorry. Three thousand miles away, I envisioned her: propped in bed, institutional, bleached sheets against her skin, a snarl of chemo and fluid tubes snaked across her frail body.

“Just another thing I’m putting on the list to show you when you come visit,” I said.

“Yes,” she replied. “I can’t wait.”

In the months that I watched for my eagle, I often spied him as Lisa and I talked. I would tell her he sent his best wishes for a speedy recovery; that he couldn’t wait to meet her.

I wondered if he was just visiting. Perhaps he had traveled from the Snoqualmie Plateau or the far reaches of the Skagit River Valley. I wondered if one day I would look for him and he would be gone, returned home, leaving me alone to the drudge of the daily commute.

Though I saw him frequently, spotting him was anything but common. Our encounters were a rare gift I unwrapped with attentiveness, an excitement I have not known this side of childhood.

So often I would find him resting in that distinctive pose: strong and erect, head turning sharply, looking north, south, east or west. Even now my mind searches for words. “Majestic” …“Regal” … none do justice.

My best friend died six months ago. She never got to see him, save in her mind’s eye. And now he is gone, too.

My eagle was so much more than a beautiful bird perched high above that bridge.

For me, for Lisa, he was a call to hope. He was a call to seek the beauty. He was a call to look up.

Rest easy, my friends.  And fly.


Amanda Halligan is a Seattle writer and communications consultant.

[photo credit: flickr]