Bald Eagle

I saw a big pine tree, gone to a snag in a spreading lake, the trunk knee-deep and root-drowned. I was on one of my nature hikes into the woods in Northern Wisconsin. I am 9 in 1956 at an all boys’ summer camp, wandering off, as usual, to get free of all the sporty hoopla.

This lake was a wild sister lake to “our lake” Big Finley, tamed with a U-shaped swimming dock set with racing lanes on strings of floating bobbers. A few summer cottages squat at the far end.

This “sister lake” Little Finley was unpopulated with few suitable places for building and was growing slowly, making wetlands from forest. There were lots of spooky snags sticking up, trunks standing in water. The trees close to the shore had suffocated.

I heard a whooshing. There’s an eagle with its stark white head, flapping and rising up to land with sudden softness in a nest perched in the crown of the snag. A new stick that must have been 6 feet across was being brought to the nest tangle. This big-as-a-dog eagle spooked me. I’d never seen anything close to this wildness. I quick-trot a quarter-mile back to the safety of ordered camp life.

This is six years before Silent Spring was published. I learned by the late Sixties, all the Eagles had vanished from Wisconsin. The miracle bug-killer DDT had made their eggs soft-shelled, laid in a mush. The eagle I saw that day would have no chicks—the last to nest there for a long time. Every Sunday night at the summer camp, one of the custodians, a handyman, would wheel a cart, a self-driving gas motor with a big fan blowing thick clouds of blue smoke. Mosquito control for the ferocious North Country pests- quick blooming opportunists in the short season. He’d work the machine all around, weaving a pattern so nothing remained un-smoked. When he was finished a low haze would settle blanketing everything. It was DDT.

DDT was banned in 1972 and the eagles are back. As of 2004 a full recovery has been declared.

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