Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Getting an eyrie view of the world

The climbing tree rose over all others in the forest. It was a natural beauty for a child looking for the distractions of adventure.

One learns to climb early or not at all. As you ascend the great trees, the base is easy — the first 12 feet or so. The ascent through the branches is more challenging. But once atop the great oak, perched on a strong branch, the panoramic view is breathtaking. Or it was for a stripling lad then, later in life, a journalist following the wanderings of an eagle researcher.

In the early-60s Goose Bay was still a working a air base. Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay was a busy place when it was a jumping-off point to Europe during the Second World War. It was still relatively busy in the mid-60s when I discovered my climbing tree. At that time, the United States and Canadian air forces shared the airport there.

My climbing tree overlooked the American side. Though the tree was perhaps 600 yards from the guarded rim of the Americans' airport, one could espy the great jets, the armed guards and the mighty German shepherds that patrolled the perimeter.  

There was also the comings and goings of military aircraft at all hours of the day. Lumbering cargo planes from NATO air forces, spewing black clouds, would fill the sky on occasion. At seven years old, I had little knowledge of the Cold War or of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a standoff that could have sent us all over the nuclear precipice.

I do recall vividly the air raid sirens that screamed at times — all practice, thankfully. I recall being huddled with my siblings into the basement where we listened to the shortwave radio in the relative darkness and dankness. Then the all-clear would wail its message, and we would trundle up to the kitchen for Kool-Aid and a peanut butter sandwich.

Years later, in the late-1990s, I climbed another great tree. This time, I followed an eagle researcher up the tree, as he hammered spikes to grasp and stand upon. Halfway up, a feeling of doom temporarily took hold. Perhaps I should make my way, gingerly, back to the ground. I reasoned, however, that I was at midpoint so, up or down, I still had 50 feet to go.

I carried on upward to that wide nest of the eagle. It was a wise investment. After pulling myself onto the nest, its enormity was immediately inspiring. It would have been 12 feet wide, almost circular and a foot tall. This marvellous work of avian effort was sturdy enough for two grown men.

The eagle researcher gingerly placed bands on each of the four eagles in the eyrie, as mother eagle soared in circles above us. Beyond, the vast islanded expanse of Lake of the Woods stretched out in all directions.

I took some photographs for the story I would write later. (The story later appeared in the Toronto Star.)

Twelve years later, I'm drawing the comparison between the two adventures. One about a boy, unafraid of mishap or misadventure. The other about a man still seeking the inspiration that comes with breathing in another view of the world.

What strikes me is that there are so many similarities in the experiences, if separated in time; that the desire (need?) to find — and embrace — different perspectives is still alive.

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