It is midsummer in Ohio and the weather knows it! Today was one of those hot, steamy days where stepping out of my air-conditioned car instantly made my glasses fog up and my body erupt with perspiration. The heat reflecting off of the asphalt almost singed my nostrils as I inhaled and penetrated the soles of my shoes with each step. The thermometer read over 90 degrees and the humidity seemed to match that number. Just a typical midsummer day.
It was so hot that I did something atypical. After picking up a lite sandwich for lunch I decided not to dine in my usual place at the sun-drenched east end of Eastwood Lake where the eagle watching is a less obstructed. Well, more truthfully, I was heading back to my usual spot when the shade of a small tree a few hundred feet further west whispered my name with an alluring coolness in its voice. I parked in its island of darkness, took one final breath of air-conditioned comfort, rolled down the windows and turned off the car.
The usually bustling park was nearly empty today. Even the fishermen had stayed home reasoning that the cold-blooded fish were too smart to approach the heated surface of the lake. One lone boat raced around the lake towing a skier behind it. As I began to eat my sandwich I notice that even the songbirds had taken today off. Ruby and Ringo, the resident Red-Tailed Hawks had abandoned their utility pole perches and were probably sitting in the shade themselves, somewhere. In fact, the only avian activity that I could see was a small group of three Turkey Vultures lazily circling on thermals in the distance. As I slowly consumed my lunch, the warm air consumed my thoughts and my ambition, so I sat and watched that small cluster of vultures. I was hoping to see Jim and Cindy’s juvenile today but I was fairly confident that even the thermals could not entice her from the coolness of the well field’s dense foliage.
Slow loop after slow loop the red-headed trio drifted closer. They had now drifted far enough to the south and close enough to my location that the thirsty leaves of the tree above me blocked my view of a portion of each loop and in my head I began to play a little counting game as I watched. In a heat-induced stupor I slowly counted…One. two, three, they disappeared behind the branches. One, two, three, they reappeared again. One, two, three, the branches consumed them once more. One, two, three, four, they finally emerged agai…Wait! Did I see four? Sure enough! A fourth large, dark bird had joined the funeral-parade! But this bird looked different, a bit larger, a bit broader, a more visible head and it drifted on flat wings and lacked the dihedral “V” of its companions. This fourth bird was a juvenile Bald Eagle! (It is amazing how fast a stupor can evaporate!)
I put down the last bite of my sandwich and started the car. I am sure now that the blast of cold air from the air conditioning must have been refreshing but I failed to notice it at the time. Zipping up to my usual spot and reaching for my camera, I watched the youngster begin to drift to the east, away from me.
As I stopped my car the trio of vultures continued to slide southward so that now their circles and that of the eagle only randomly intersected. For the next forty minutes I sat in my hot car in the direct sunlight and watched our baby prove that she had mastered the art of high altitude soaring!
She was having a ball up there and I was having a ball down here. I watched her as she effortlessly ascended to the clouds, folded her majestic wings and tumbled fifty feet or so before stabilizing herself again.
At one point her circles had brought her back towards my location. “Having her high overhead would allow for a better image than having her high in the distance.” I thought to myself while hoping she would lose a little altitude as she passed. But, unfortunately, as she reached Harshman Road a different pair of Turkey Vultures passed just below her, heading east towards the well field. She swooped at them and then chased them for a minute. By the end of her playtime she had reversed her direction and gracefully drifted farther away.
Even when she appeared to be just a tiny spot, gently kissing the clouds she was 100% graceful. Watching her soar so effortlessly made me envious of her ability to do so. Gravity weighs heavily on me at times and today was one of those days. As the juvenile disappeared into the treetops near the nest I realized that I was drenched. In the heat of the moment (pun intended) I had forgotten about the temperature of the air saturating my car’s interior.
As I rolled up the windows and cranked up the air, I started thinking about the past hour. It was uncomfortably hot and I had opted for the soothing shade of that small tree. How long had the baby been flying low over the well field blocked from my view by my desire for comfort. There is a life lesson hiding in there somewhere. There are many hot, sticky periods in life that tend to make us uncomfortable and maybe even irritable. Our natural tendency often moves us to escape the heat and seek the coolness of a comfortable solution. But what wonders we may miss if we stay too long in the shade.