Which isn't entirely unusual -- ours is a cultural moment in which dogs and cats and other domestic animals are rightfully regarded as conscious, thoughtful, creatures. They're recognized as persons, in a sense -- but that recognition isn't so frequently extended to wild animals, few of whom we come to know as individuals.
But when a pair of eagles moves in, and you watch them build a nest stick-by-stick, and see them as often as your human neighbors ... it gets personal. "I cried for days," recalled Sharon Fiedler, a retiree and wildlife photographer who lives nearby. Last year she saw them mate atop a nearby cliff known as Lover's Leap. "It might sound crazy to some people," said Ryan Robbins, "but it had me depressed for a week."
He was standing outside, talking to John Ellis, another of the building's residents, when the male eagle crashed. "I'm a big guy. I'm six-foot-two, 275 pounds. I'm 50 years old," said Ellis, who landscapes for a living and makes country music in his spare time. "And I was just crushed. I had tears in my eyes." Ellis had names for the eagles. The female was Jackie, in honor of his mom, and the male was Nicky, after a man who'd been like a father to him.
I felt for the eagles, too. I grew up in Bangor, and still visit frequently. Every few months I'd see one of them -- hunting ducks in winter on Kenduskeag stream, a little ways from their nest and my mom's house, or sweeping low over bare fields in early spring. When I heard about their tragedy, it hit me harder than I would've expected. It was a bit like losing a friend you don't often see, and realize too late how just knowing they were around made your life richer.
There was a sense of injustice, too. Once you start paying attention to wild animals, it's hard not to feel protective. They're making their way in a difficult world, one populated by unpredictable two-legged giants whose essential tendency is to cause harm, intentionally or otherwise.
Tests were inconclusive, but the eagles appeared to have been poisoned. They'd likely consumed a bait intended for a coyote or a fox, some animal sentenced to death because some people have such a hard time sharing their landscape with the creatures who live there. "Whatever toxins those eagles got into, they didn't create it," Ellis said. "We did. And we need to be more responsible with what we're doing in our own backyards."
Capable of cruelty and callousness as humans are, though, we're also capable of great acts of kindness. And so a day later, a wildlife biologist climbed that white pine tree, 90 feet high and swaying in the wind, to rescue two eaglets from the nest. Fortunately they hadn't shared their parents' last meal.
Photo: Sharon Fiedler