Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer:Bald eagles

Here on Penobscot Bay the bald eagle population is apparently growing rapidly. We wouldn't necessarily know, for a sighting over here on the west side of the bay (away from the islands where they wisely live) is rare, lasts maybe two seconds, and is the occasion for wild whoops and comical gyrations as we press noses against the windows to follow its flight out of sight. Its symbolism and mystery are still strong, stirring up both patriotism and nostalgia, a gut wish for some lost America.
It makes me think that people who love Maine are essentially conservative. We’re savers, we’d be completely for maintaining the status quo if most of it weren’t so awful. (I’m pleased to report in this regard that in late 2010, the discovery of an eagle’s nest scuttled, at least temporarily, the state’s plans to build a bypass around Wiscasset and its heroic traffic jams.) My dictionary says conservatism is “a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change.” I’d agree completely if all this were nature-based. But political conservatives focus on institutions, not individuals, on the idea of a bald eagle and not the reality of its fierce and independent beauty. And the works of humans, our DDT and our mercury, are doubly dangerous: we nearly wiped out the eagles, and now that they are returning, we have somehow changed them. On their island fortresses, to which we have banished them, they are forsaking their traditional and difficult diet of live fish and are feasting on easier prey, the chicks and fledglings of the shore birds such as gulls and ducks and cormorants, and because one of those cormorant species of Penobscot Bay, the great cormorant, has so few members to begin with, it probably won’t last the decade.
     Are humans to interfere again? Who's going to win, a magnificent warlike raptor, the symbol of America, or a lowly black water bird? If you had to save one for democracy, which would it be? It’s an example of both our hubris and our interference that we have to ask such questions.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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