The standing-room-only crowd erupted into applause. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting another form of outdoor entertainment, but it just needs to be in a different setting, where it won’t impact the birds,” the speaker had just said. She was an Audubon Master Birder who had just finished explaining the likely effects of a proposed set of ropes courses and ziplines on avian life. The loud cheers, whistles, clapping were for my birds, the birds of Lincoln Park.
Two hundred fifty people, applauding birds!
I’d entered the meeting room early to get my slides set up, so there were just a few people there, but the atmosphere was already electric. As more and more people poured in, their muted tones rose to high energy. Thirteen days ago, they’d discovered (courtesy of our local news source, the West Seattle Blog) that the city had been working for almost a year with a commercial ropes-course developer to propose taking over up to 10 acres of our local park to build an expensive, loud private operation, in exchange for a small percentage of the profit that would go back to the city. Our community wanted to know why, and they wanted to object.
We set up webpages (including Preserve Lincoln Park and a Facebook group page), emailed and wrote letters to our City Council, Parks officials, and others, organized to work on a draft mission statement and a draft petition. We talked with friends, neighbors, countrymen and -women. There’s a longer story here, which I’ll write later, but all of this brought us to last Tuesday’s community meeting, hosted by a well-organized and experienced neighborhood association.
After a few presentations, the meeting was opened up to comments from the community. Speaker after speaker argued passionately, some in tears, for the owls, for the eagles, for the foxes. For places that can be enjoyed by children now and future; for peaceful paths where the elderly in our neighborhood nursing home can relive childhoods spent in the same lovely space.
A community raised its voice for a quiet forest. And the next morning, city officials announced that we had been heard, and that there would be no ropes courses in our park. This time, quiet spoke louder than money.
* * * * *
The baby eagle fledged this morning! We’d been watching “Ricky” especially closely for the past week, knowing that fledging time was drawing near. The base of his nest tree is a redolent recycling center for fish parts, crow and gull wings, and the other detritus of three months of baby-feeding. He’s been up there flexing his wings, flap-hopping his way around his tree, squealing loudly much of the time; we haven’t been able to figure out if he’s saying “Hey Ma, lookit me!” or “Papa, I’m hungry!” or is simply exuberant with each new skill.
My partner Rob and I went for a lovely long hike yesterday, so I was on tenterhooks wondering if Ricky had fledged, but Melanie had texted me that he was still on his nest tree. So I hurried right out to the nest area after breakfast.
We saw one of the parent eagles, but not Ricky, although we could hear his piercing calls. It took a while for Rob, my musician partner whose ears are much better tuned than mine, to convince me that the baby-screeching was indeed coming not from the nest tree where Ricky had spent his entire twelve-week life so far, but from the next tree over. He’d made it!
Half of young eagles don’t make their first flight, ending up on the ground. In that case, their parents will keep feeding them as they work to build their wing strength, but it’s always better if they can get to the next tree. And there Ricky was near the top of his new lookout, looking alertly around, nibbling on fir cones, scratching his head.
Eaglet, pensive after initial fledging flight
We spent a long time admiring him. What must it be like to be in a brand-new tree, new vistas, new smells and perspectives? A bit later, he stretched his neck, then his wings, and launched himself into air a second time, making it perhaps 25 yards to yet another fir, where he stumbled a bit looking for firm footing, then started his proud squealing.
Eaglet taking off, fledging day
Then a third time: back to the nest tree—which meant that he could plan where he wanted to go and get there, and he wasn’t just landing on whichever tree was next closest.
Eaglet in mid-flight on fledging day
Eaglet on fledging day, landing smoothly (more or less)
Ricky has graduated into a new world: larger, more challenging, but with a new freedom and possibilities he can’t yet imagine.
* * * * *
This week has brought flight to both an eaglet and a new human community, formed around love of a place. We love our place, our neighborhood park, because of the eaglet and the Salish Sea and the forest that his existence implies, and for the eaglet and his future siblings, and nests, and prey, and the marvelous natural world that makes all that possible.
It makes us possible too. Thanks to a community of love, it looks like we’ll be able to pass along this quiet treasure to our shared future.