To continue this story about eagles, we must look back to winter solstice – that time in December (about the 21st) when my little part of the earth reaches its farthest distance from the sun and begins its journey back toward that magnificent orb. On the longest day (in June), the process reverses and six months later, the cycle loops back upon itself. We’ve been told Mother Nature rules all. However, if the earth didn’t orbit around the sun exactly the way it does, Mother Nature would be thwarted in her work and the world around us would look much different. (In this discourse, we will take a romantic approach. We will ignore all thoughts of global warming, too horrifying to imagine.) Think about it. If the tilt of earth’s axis were to change to bring us closer to the sun in summer or farther away in winter, or both, local plant and animal life would be very much altered.
Which reminds me . . .
My stepfather, Clyde Kreps, was a child of nature. Born and raised high in the rugged coastal mountains of southern Humboldt County, Clyde was sensitive to the slightest degree of change in his surroundings. He could track anything and could see animals and birds who thought they were well hidden. Intrinsically, he knew when migratory species had come into or gone from the area. And he could hear an earthquake before it happened. This is all true! I witnessed it more than once.
When an earthquake was imminent, Clyde would suddenly stop whatever he was doing and become very still. Oblivious to all noise and activity happening around him, he would get a faraway look in his eyes and would say quietly, “Earthquake coming.” A short time later, the earth underneath our feet would shake.
I swear I speak the truth! One summer night a goodly number of family members was gathered at the cabin on Kreps Ridge. In the wee hours of the morning, the clan lay lined up in orderly rows of cots and sleeping bags on the screened sleeping porch and in the fenced dooryard. My sister Joyce and I were awake, whispering together and trying to listen to a hooting owl over Clyde’s rhythmic, ear splitting snore. Suddenly, the snoring ceased and there was silence all around us. In the blessed quiet, the owl hooted. From the large double bed on the sleeping porch, our quiet spoken stepfather said, “Earthquake coming.”
Mother said, “Huh?”
Joyce snorted and said, half under her breath, “Yeah, right.” We began to giggle. A few tee-hees later, the air was filled with the most terrifying roar and the earth beneath us began to buck. Tucked inside our separate sleeping bags under a pear tree, she and I were thrown more than a few inches farther apart from each other, the back steps became unattached and moved a couple of feet away from the cabin, water pouring from a broken pipe forged a downhill rivulet, a few ripe pears fell from their trees in the dooryard, and from those who had been soundly sleeping, commotion ensued.
Before rumbling echoes of the upheaval faded, Clyde had leapt out of bed, donned his Levi’s and lit a lantern. Mother had grabbed her robe, got up and slid her feet into her slippers. “Well, since we’re all awake,” she said, “I’ll start the coffee. Girls, come inside and help me make breakfast.”
Now, where was I? . . .
My family members are used to it by now, but perhaps I should warn you about my story telling style. I often begin with a yarn of one color which magically becomes another, more interesting color – at least to me, and hopefully also to you. Sometimes we get back to the beginning point, but sometimes the beginning is simply a preliminary wave on an incoming tide of thought or memory that needs airing. I encourage you to grab hold of the surf board and hang on. That’s what I do.
Oh, I remember, now, I began with the solstices to find a place to talk about how the reproductive cycles of American bald eagles seem to be different in different parts of the country. By now, this year’s eaglets in Florida are more than half grown, Southern California pairs on the Catalina Islands began to lay their eggs the day after St. Valentine’s Day, and Northern California eagles have yet to begin working on their nests in preparation for raising families. Those of us who watch the eagles have a saying: Eagles know best. EKB for short.
The mention of solstice and the earth’s axis pulled open the heavy redwood door to some old family memories, carefully tucked away some twenty-five years ago with Clyde’s passing. He and I shared a reverence for the winter and summer solstices. He told me once he felt that Mother Nature, on the shortest day of the year, had to decide whether to pull the earth back toward the sun so we could have summer or to let us fly out into space. On the longest day, she would decide if she should keep the earth from spinning into the sun.
Even though we all know this is not exactly the way things work (at least I hope we know it), where ever in the world Clyde and I were on those two days of every year, one of us would call the other to talk about the half year just past and the future yet to come. We never forgot nor missed marking our semiannual milestone. He would be so pleased that the eagles are returning to our woods.