the golden eagles of mount diablo
This mountain stands here
and it is good
There’s sublime comfort in my heart knowing that it is there;
This giant – watching, unmoving, steadfast in this place;
No matter are the passing priorities of man to this spirit
As its peaks rise high above the land
Reminding us of greater forces than ourselves
So too are its roots below, holding us when we forget
This mountain stands here
and it is good
These past few days have been unreal. It started with a close encounter with some resident great-horned owls in Tilden Regional Park on Thursday evening, the same ones that we had been monitoring with their fledglings last year (see tilden owls 1, tilden owls 2 and tilden owls 3). They seem to know us at this point, lazily gazing down at us as they awaken in the dying light of day.
Then on Friday, I took a trip to Mount Diablo. I’ve been drawn to this mountain as of late. Human matters have given me occasion to be in the vicinity, so I’ve taken some time while there to explore this mighty refuge which stands high above the East Bay. This is the mountain that is considered the place of creation for many native people of the Bay Area, it is a powerful place. Usually when I wander, I don’t have a goal – I let the place lead me to where it may. But on this particular day, I was hoping to find the nesting place of some resident peregrine falcons on the cliffs of the mountain. As is usually the case, the land had ideas of its own about what it would share with me.
As I was leaving my hopes of seeing a peregrine with the more rugged natural area behind me, I entered into some of the open grazing land that wraps some of the high hills and is a familiar site all around the Bay Area. I walked along a cattle trail high up on a hillside that parallels a human path far below, and as I came to the top of that hill to take a drink, rest, and survey the area, I saw it. From behind the next ridge line over, a familiar form lofted up with seemingly no effort to start performing slow, steady circles in the sky.
It was a golden eagle.
After watching this eagle fly higher into the air until it seemed to disappear, I walked down from my current overlook into a saddle leading to the next hill top from where I had seen the eagle materialize. As I started back uphill, my eyes went right to a large valley oak tree at the top of the hill I was climbing, upon which sat another golden eagle! Slowly, reverently, I approached this bird – this creature that embodies the mountain itself. Its presence and awareness are as big as a mountain.
I always approach birds and other wildlife with respect, carefully looking and sensing for any signs that my presence is creating stress. Sometimes I even put my camera away just to enjoy the experience – recognizing that occasionally the animal does not want to be photographed and is just sharing the interaction with me so I can give it thanks with no distractions. But this was not the case – the eagle continued to preen and survey the surrounding area in a calm matter as I approached within 25 yards, glancing at me only for a few moments from time to time. It seemed to welcome me.
After it finished preening, it roused and sliced (“bird-talk” for shook its feathers and pooped), then took off and flew directly over my head and started to soar over the valleys below. As it flew over me, I let the camera fall to my side – it felt as if a great wave went through me as it passed 20 feet above my head. After I composed myself and reflected about what happened, I walked up to the top of the hill to check out the oak tree that it had been sitting in. After a few minutes of checking it out, I looked over to the north and incredulously saw about 40 yards away the other eagle was perched on a power pole, preening. I watched this other eagle for a little while before it finally took off when its mate flew by. The two of them started to soar again over the valleys below, and as one of them started to circle around the valley to gain altitude, it went right by me a number of times giving me incredible views. When it first started to fly up the valley, my heart jumped in my throat as it appeared it was coming right at me. Literally breathtaking.
Thank you Mount Diablo and all that call it home. Thank you to the people who saved this place from development, to the people who once called this home, and to the people who continue to steward this place. Thank you eagles!