A pair of giant bald eagles with tangled talons, suspended from a maple tree on a pleasant spring evening.
Apparently this happens from time to time. It can happen in courtship, as in Walt Whitman’s poem, The Dalliance of the Eagles.
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling…
And it can happen in battle. Male eagles get into territorial struggles and end up linked like this, unable or perhaps unwilling to extricate themselves. They will hang this way for hours and finally disentangle and fly away.
Was this battle or breeding? It’s hard to tell if this is a pair of males or a courting couple. Females are bigger than males, apparently, and have larger beaks and a larger hallux or primary back talon.
We returned anxiously the next morning. The tree was empty. The eagles had gone. Was I disappointed or relieved? It’s hard to say.
What do you do with an image like this? With all the questions it raises? Questions of life and death and impermanence, of the vast mysteries of forest and sky, of the fierce, unknowable creatures with whom we share this planet? What do you do, as a writer, with the great hanging wing, with the yellow unblinking circle of a trapped eagle’s eye? With not knowing how to judge this bizarre behavior, not knowing whether it resulted from a fight or a flight of courtship?
Store it away. That’s what you do. You trust that at the right moment, if it is meant to be, the words for this experience will cartwheel into your mind “in tumbling turning clustering loops.”