My son has been studying our national symbols over the past few weeks. His drawing tonight reminded me of an experience that I want to share.
Nearly a year ago, I saw a heartbreaking scene on the side of the road. I looked so long that I could have rear-ended the car in front of me. A bald eagle, its white tail feathers sticking straight up in the air, lay in a rigid heap at the foot of a traffic sign. How it ended up there, I did not know, but its glorious wings stuck out from the blackened snow, preserving it like a grotesque gargoyle. Our national emblem, just lying there, like discarded rubbish. I couldn’t stand it.
As soon as I was no longer on activity restrictions for a threatened miscarriage (that means I was still pregnant), I took my eldest on a drive to the parking lot nearest the tragic sight. We walked dutifully along the busy road toward the sign. With a heavy heart, I forged ahead while my daughter got distracted by her footprints. She thought we might be breaking the law (something about possessing bald eagle feathers) and dragged her feet as much as possible. I didn’t mind. After six weeks of “taking it easy” to round out my 20 weeks of morning sickness, I found trudging to be a bit demanding for me.
I had brought a plastic bag with which I planned to collect the remains, the way some people might clean up after a pet. It seemed a little informal, but I had never heard of a protocol for the respectful disposal of bald eagle remains. I just knew someone had to do it, and that someone would be me. My eyes misted over as I recalled a moment when my mother-in-law, my daughter, and I had solemnly folded a ragged American flag and delivered it to the fiery furnace of my in-laws’ potbelly stove. Perhaps my daughter and I could have a solemn experience like that. I tried to form a few heartfelt words to share over the bird’s grave later on.
Then we reached the traffic sign where the now melted snow had left our brown and white…goose. A Canada goose. Just one of the millions of geese that inundate our city during the winter like we’re some sort of resort town.
I had risked the life and limbs of three people for a pooping machine?
“Never mind, dear. National Emergency over. It’s just another one of those Canada geese. Not even from here.” I absently began placing litter in my drooping bag, trying to appear purposeful to the traffic streaming past.
I am so tempted right now to make this post a serious one. About the worth of all people, not just those who fit the ideal or who appear distinguished from their more common peers.
But rather than use my elaborate metaphorical skills to relate this incident to the homeless or to racial and immigration issues in America, I’m going to keep it light. After all, issues are just distractions from our goal-driven lives. So instead, I’ll share all the other distractions that could help me get in a car crash:
A large bird of any kind flying over the road
Flocks of birds in the sky
Carpet remnants that look like roadkill
Litter that looks like living animals about to become roadkill
A single shoe–why is there just a single shoe??
Trying to memorize the make, model, and plates of the vehicle ahead of me because something just seems “off” and I’m about to help solve a crime
Shadows growing long on the hillsides like a giant’s fingers stretching toward the road
Amazing clouds, especially the kind that look like a series of stacked UFOs
Gnarled tree trunks and lichen-covered boulders that look like animals from the African savanna
Horses in a field because I want to count them
Watching a plastic grocery bag blow across the road
Cheering on a tumbleweed as it crosses the road and is nearly hit
Trying to glimpse the giant tumbleweed caught in the grill of the truck in the neighboring lane on the freeway
Trying to see what I just picked off my scalp
Remembering the time I saw a duck and her ducklings trying to cross the freeway
Getting teary-eyed thinking of how awful it would be to lose a child
Sunbeams streaming through the clouds
An unusual dog breed
A dog that looks like an unusual dog breed
Not the person walking the dog
I repeat. It is never the person walking the dog, and someday I’m going to drive into a tree while a refined gentleman is walking a pair of Borzois past the golf course, and you will have to take my word for it that I was staring at the dogs because he will flatter himself as a witness to the accident (and all witnesses will agree) that the woman was staring at him with a half smile/half gape as she slammed her car into a tree. I never even saw the man. Or the tree.
[Public service announcement: 50 days ago, my younger sister was hit by a car as she legally crossed within a crosswalk in an area frequented by pedestrians. Whether the driver who caused an oncoming driver to swerve and hit my sister was distracted or was simply unobservant of the car that he turned in front of, my sister’s words during the early stages of recovery need to be heard by every driver out there: “Please drive carefully and responsibly. Nothing is worth the price of taking somebody’s life away, even if she lives.”]