February 12, 2015

Two days ago, I emerged from the Rio Vista woods and hiked westbound along the Mississippi—and stopped. A glider plane was headed east, over the trees—or so it seemed, me looking into the sun.

It was a dark-hued bird with an eight foot wingspan, the width of the wings over two feet across, soaring straight-winged above the bluff line then descending at an angle, like it was Lambert Field ahead.

The golden eagle, brown and grey and white-ruffled, its curved beak four inches long landed in a slender treetop outside my friend Jerry’s house, the tree bending from the poundage of the giant bird.

It saw me. It glared at me. It dared me.

Yesterday two immature bald eagles went claw to claw on a stubby length of driftwood at the foot of Clifton Terrace. They were playing tug of war—with a small fish instead of a rope. Back and forth rocked the black-headed birds, the fish’s body elongating but not coming apart, and then the eagle on the left let go and took off toward Scotch Jimmy Island, the victor swallowing the fish whole.

It saw me. It glared at me. It dared me.

Today I was driving toward Alton, and I saw a lone turkey vulture soaring in a circle over the Oblate Fathers Novitiate property high on a bluff. Suddenly a tiny speck flew out of rock crevice, straight at breakneck speed for the mighty scavenger.

It was a peregrine falcon. It climbed above the vulture and dive bombed onto the bird’s head, the vulture folding its wings and dropping and spinning down, unfolding its wings at the last moment before crashing and flying out over the water. The falcon covered the air in less than two seconds, smashing into the hapless vulture’s side.

My car passed and I didn’t witness the aftermath. I shouted, “Damn!” I imagined the wounded vulture at the vulture emergency room:

Doc: Damn cruel humans. Arrow? Vulture: Friggin’ peregrine falcon. Doc: Damn little shits. Vulture: Give it to me straight, Doc. Doc: A few stitches is all. I smell something dead. Vulture: I ate raccoon road kill for lunch. Doc: Nice!

The two fiercest wild creatures I ever saw were a peregrine falcon and a wild mink. Never creep up to a mink; it will tear your leg off. I once saw a black mink attack a groundhog six times its size, kill the thing and drag it to a burrow. Falcons attack any and every thing they view as an enemy. They are the smallest and the fastest bird aviators and they know no fear.

I once climbed to the top of Black Mountain, in New Hampshire. It was a windy day, perilous for scaling sheer granite. I reached the summit and ducked down. Three peregrine falcons were hovering in the wind over the peak, almost motionless, their fighter jet wings extended.

They saw me. They glared at me. They dared me.

I bowed.


About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: eugenebaldwin.com. I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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