Creek Running North

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October 06, 2004


Aquila chrysaetos

I had nothing in the truck that would have been illegal to bring back into California. Still, I had little confidence I'd be able to persuade the border guards of that. There were three nursery plants with no receipt (Yucca baccata, Agave felgeri, and Ephedra viridis bought at a "friends of" sale at Tohono Chul Park in Tucson), and a very suspicious root cutting of Yucca elata that obviously indicated I'd been stealing plants from public lands, except that it had actually been handed to me by a Tucson plantsman, who dug it up from a display garden at his nursery. "Gotta keep the collectors happy," he said.

Nope. No way that would pass muster at the California Agricultural Inspection Stations. So I went around them. By avoiding the interstates and major highways, you can often cruise right into the state with your Mediterranean fruit flies and kudzu vines, unmolested by any state employee other than perhaps the Highway Patrol. This is not a good thing, necessarily. But I was willing to take advantage of it, reasonably certain that nothing I was importing posed any threat to Californian landscape nor agriculture.

Which is the official reason I came to cross from Kingman to Barstow mainly on the back roads. Aside from AZ 68 through the sprawling Golden Valley into Laughlin, and high-speed US 95 into Searchlight, we're talking hundreds of miles of mainly deserted, crumbly, arrow-straight two-lane.

At 70 mph, the ranges drifted past like ships. This was familiar country, and the ranges' names played before my mind: Ivanpah, Providence, Granite, New York. The Dead Mountains. The Newberry Range. The sun dropped low, and desert haze hid all of the mountains but their slow-moving silhouettes. Thus I spent three hours yesterday evening, in valleys so deserted I thought nothing of pulling over, stepping out, and taking a very long piss at roadside. When you can see the next car coming fourteen miles off, privacy becomes more a matter of timing than of location.

The eagle was apparently thinking the same thing. A foot or so off the pavement on Morning Star Mine Road, it paid me no mind as it disemboweled the cottontail.

I spoke the first words I had in hours: "what the?" Probably three hundred yards up the road, I stopped, made an ungainly three-point turn, and rolled back down the slope to get a second look.

It was Eagle, all right.

In my memory of the encounter, slightly more than 24 hours old at this writing, the bird was five feet tall and a mere handsbreadth from the passenger door of the truck as I rolled past. More likely, it was slightly less than a meter in height and about twenty feet from me. It was near-black and dark brown, a mottled pattern of blotches that would hide it well against a desert varnished hillside. It looked mean, and fearless.

Appearances aside, my second, slower approach was odd enough to spook it - anyone driving less than 55 out there is obviously up to no good. Eagle grabbed Rabbit in his(?) right talon and flew stumbling a few yards down the road. That wingspan! easily six feet. But the rabbit was hefty, five or seven pounds it looked like, and after a few seconds Eagle gave up, dropped the rabbit, and perched in a Joshua tree a few feet from it, glaring at me with as pure an expression of annoyance as I have ever seen, and me a married man.

I felt regret at having to turn around again and pass one more time, but the eagle seemed no more perturbed, resting somewhat less warily in the Joshua tree. The rabbit lay there, still dead, and I think Eagle had realized I posed only a minor and temporary interruption to dinner. As I passed, this time at a sensible 55 per, Eagle had already forgotten me. Eyeing the dead rabbit below, he plotted his next move.

Posted at October 6, 2004 10:16 PM | TrackBack

Comments

You said you'd come back with stories. You were right. What a thing to witness!

But welcome home, in any case. I hope the trip out was satisfying enough that your return to civilization (such as it is) isn't too painful.

Posted by: Siona at October 6, 2004 10:54 PM

it is unusual for me to read you at this end of the day! what a wonderful eagle found YOU! is this some newfound pattern at vacation's end? to find eagles along the road? welcome home, my friend. you have been missed.

Posted by: Anne at October 7, 2004 05:05 PM

Wonderful!

(And thanks for evoking memories of those backroads. There are some nice side effects of a childhood spent in cars with a father with an aversion to main roads, and this is one of them: the memories.)

Posted by: Rana at October 11, 2004 11:50 AM


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