Black Creek, Eagles’ Nest

by Tim Gilmore, 2/14/2015

What makes a bald eagle’s nest stick together?

It weighs a ton. That’s not figurative. It’s literal.

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photograph by Wanda Glennon Canaday

It’s been at the top of this Spanish-Moss-drenched pine for 10 years. Each year, the eagles renovate their aerie and add to it. It’s one of the most significant pieces of architecture in the Jacksonville area, as it would be anywhere else.

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photograph by Wanda Glennon Canaday

The nearby tree, in which the eagles perch, held their home until a storm blasted it into Black Creek more than a decade ago.

Today we see only one eaglet. He wavers by the side of the nest. His parents have fattened him on fish for almost four months and it’s time for him to fledge. Through the binoculars, he looks more like a fat buzzard than the majestic bird he’ll become.

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photograph by Wanda Glennon Canaday

I haven’t been to church in years. The eagles don’t know names like Jesus or Mohammad or Siddhartha Gautama, but they know something about the earth and existence that I don’t know and never will.

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photograph by Wanda Glennon Canaday

The fact that most people who drive across the nearby multi-lane bridge never notice the eagles’ nest works metaphorically for my own ignorance about what the eagles know that I can’t. Maybe the only thing that devil Donald Rumsfeld was ever right about was “unknown unknowns.”

“As we know,” the former secretary of defense said in 2002 when challenged with the fact that there was no good evidence for the Bush administration’s case for war against Iraq, “there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

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photograph by Wanda Glennon Canaday

Though the existence of threats of which we’re unaware may be the worst possible case for war, since, as philosopher Bertrand Russell said, the fact that no one can prove there is not a cosmic teapot orbiting the sun is hardly reason to believe there is, I am nevertheless content with knowing, even as I try to know as much as I can, that most unknowns will always be items we don’t know we don’t know.

That’s what makes standing on the white-shit-spattered and eaglet-feathered ground and staring up at the branches and sticks and mosses and grasses and reeds and lianas that comprise this 2,000-pound nest an act of cathedral.

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photograph by Wanda Glennon Canaday

It humbles me. Awes me. Puts me in my place—for I’m much smaller and shorter-lived than these tall regal trees, and I’m clumsily weighed to the ground, unlike these great birds that soar so far above their treetop home, their “eagle’s eye” on it, and us, all the time. Re-attunes me. Reminds me of Everything I Am Not, the beauty of which leaves me stricken. In which state I am grateful.