Friday, May 02, 2003

Eagle Eye Channel

Its about a fifteen minute drive through the middle of nowhere, past farms and old stone commune buildings, through the one-church, one-library, one-store-and-nothing-else town of Gill, MA to Turners Falls from here. At the end of the long winding road one comes to a crossroads, Route 2: a Mobil station, a motorcycle outlet, a hot dog stand. Ahead, the long bridge over the falls themselves stretches across the surprisingly close water, rising slightly over its span.

The unharnessed water roils under and around this once-flourishing milltown, now run down and bereft of industry. Further in there's a Salvation Army and a slightly run down supermarket, a diner and a couple of secondhand stores; by the water's edge a strip park with no slides or goalposts waits for civic projects to renew it. But here before the town begins it is separated from the passthrough of a thousand thousand tourists by a long cliffside bridgespan over this once-mighty industry driver, the river itself. Below the bridge, a small island, really a rock with a few verytall narrow trees holding a few dozen yards of dirt together. And in the tallest, center-most tree of that island, at the very, very top, a pair of bald eagles have made their nest for as long as we've lived here and probably much longer.

And you can see it all on channel 17.

Bald eagles are a big deal, an endangered symbol of a beleagured nation more often seen on old quarters than aflight, and the environment and education, funded at a state level or by competitive grant, have room to grow in dead milltowns still a-bulge with blue collar families. Too, where no money exists for maintenance of a real community access station, the town, by state law, has a cable channel all their own. So from the time the last ice melts on the edges of the river, the local environmental group turns on the camera above their rooftop by the river's edge.

The grant-funded telephoto lens is an unblinking eye that never wavers, even in the worst of windstorms, even from such a distance. The tight directional microphone picks up the brazen screech of the nesting pair and, if it's a good year, the baby. This year there's a single unhatched egg, dead white and unnoticed in the center of the screen, the 800 pound nest dwarfing its unhatching speckles; a second unhatched egg disappeared from the nest a couple of weeks ago. But this is, nonetheless, a good year, as over the egg, tiny in the two-eagle nest, rocks the fluffandstuff of another eagle baby, born grey and more grey on April 17th of this year, like most newborn chicks hardly different from a baby any-kind-of-bird in looks and demeanor.

Here's the mother now, beak to beak with her fuzzy new chick. It's drizzling here, it's drizzling there: the chick shakes off the mist a tiny half-extended miniature of its mothers broad white-tipped span. The mother pulls something small and stringy from in amongst the side of the nest, as if there were a nest in the nest, cultivated like a skytop garden, and carefully, delicate with the razor sharpest of curved protuberances, offers her open maw to the grey ball that is this year's single offspring. Look how the sun goes down outside the window, and the screen dims to the verysame purple twilight; how the father returns to pace the periphery; how the mother nudges the tattered nest floor up and around the now-softly-singing eaglet.

Forget the angry countercultural, the late-night tax law specialist, the city council meeting on your usual local news. Turners Falls, for all its faults and poverty, puts them all to shame: TV never got more local, nor more real, than the sun going down here and there together, the baby singing herself to sleep as the mother covers her in turf and her own warm breast, just like my own daughter sings herself to sleep every night, similarly singsong, equally full of promise.

Want to see for yourself? The Turners Falls eagle's nest is online courtesy of Northeastern Utilities, with facts about eagles and a detailed history of this particlar nest. A captured image from the TV feed is posted on the site every five to fifteen minutes during daylight hours.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:35 PM |

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