It began with a Bald Eagle chase.
One frigid, February morn, just after dawn, I left home and took to the road, inching tender-footed as a doe along crisply frozen roads. Slowly, slowly I wound my way towards work, over long, empty stretches of winding, country lanes. Grasslands shimmered with frozen obedience, aiming their long stalks like crystallized swords towards the heavens. Frozen, gauzy landscapes loomed icy-cold around, as I, now tightly buckled into my motorized, movable box, inched forward beneath the bluing, brightening sky.
Suddenly, a bald eagle darted down in front of my car hood. I gasped and slowed even more. Then, a second eagle, bigger than the first, zipped behind, head-to-tail. Whoa! The two spun and spiraled, neck and neck. They swirled over and around in tighter, smaller loops, the bigger eagle overshadowing the smaller one. I sat immovable in my car, watching wordlessly as the Flute Sonata No. 1 in A by Philippe Gaubert trilled maniacally from my radio’s speakers, accompanying this spectacle. Barely breathing, I watched as the two creatures flew straight towards each other, head to head, before the bigger one grabbed the smaller ones’ talons. There in front of me, they cartwheeled head over tail towards earth, locked together in a seeming death-dive. Miraculously the pair separated at the last moment, soaring skyward again, while I exhaled with relief.
As the pair roiled up and down in front of me in this repeating, dramatic display, I began to believe this a rape scene. I watched the smaller eagle careen away from the bigger one time and again, while an invisible thought-cloud popped overhead in my mind’s eye. #Metoo it screamed, as wild strings of exclamation points fell clunkily towards earth with unanswered despair.
As I projected my own fears skyward, the two birds swooped and soared overhead, while I stared upwards expectantly, like a prisoner peering out between the bars of her cell, waiting moment-by-moment for a miracle. Instead, the bald eagles forged ahead, leaving me alone on the road, clutching nothing more weighty than flute trills and wordless, womanly wonder.
As I continued on towards work, nothing felt the same. I’d already learned how cruel and torturous male butterflies were to females, often. I knew dolphins routinely raped and pillaged their females. Was this yet another version of a female’s sad, timeless story playing out again? Were all feminine creatures in every kingdom, big and small, doomed to daily domination?
That night I went online to read about bald eagle mating. I’d spent the day feeling unwell about what I’d seen; not knowing whether I had witnessed fear, frenzy, or simply fanfare. Yet my perusals online revealed the one thing I never imagined: the bigger eagle was the FEMALE. Yes, you read that correctly…when documenting bald eagles, scientists have found that it’s usually the FEMALE chasing the male!
This was no rape; no assault; rather, it was the female’s demand that the male prove himself worthy to mate with!
Suddenly this story needed to be revisited by me, from the beginning, with a whole new set of assumptions.
It felt implausible to believe that within this species, the female dominates, by demanding, leading, testing her would-be-mate. And who would believe that a national, symbolic treasure, once nearly wiped out by man’s obliviousness, could now bounce back and tout such a bold, shocking truth…that females wield the power! Imagine all those U.S. men even now, proudly driving around town with emblematic bald eagles, parading their patriotism…a word derived from patrios, meaning of one’s fathers; or power culturally passed on through males only…even as the very symbol they wield speaks of feminine strength.
The fact that I am a forty-eight year old resident of the U.S. and never knew this about the bald eagle, our national emblem – well, it’s laughable. And awesome. And a necessary symbolic reminder for us ladies living here, now, in the age of trump-ism. The female bald eagle is the woman totem we’ve been staring at and looking for this whole time, all while not understanding what she’s trying to tell us. She’s our own face staring back at us in the mirror, urging us to fly higher; to challenge the assumed status quo; to find male allies worthy of our engagement.
My mother often said, “Wear some lipstick…it lifts up your whole face! And for heaven’s sake, wallpaper a bathroom with a man before you marry him!”
What she meant by this sage advice was – test him! Put his feet to the fire and see if he can problem-solve patiently; take direction willingly; work with you as a teammate and equal instead of succumbing to demands, cruelty, even force.
My drive to work that winter morning late last week changed my life. In three-minutes time it presented me with a sobering grasp of my innate assumptions. It imparted to me a national symbol so significant in the fight for feminine empowerment that I will now smile whenever I see it on a truck or the back of a quarter; on the national seal or on the capitol building.
“Thus the eagle, full of the boundless spirit of freedom, living above the valleys, strong and powerful in
his her might, has become the national emblem of a country that offers freedom in word and thought and an opportunity for a full and free expansion into the boundless space of the future.” – Maude M. Grant