Tuesday, April 16, 2024 Apr 16, 2024
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Nature & Environment

An Eagle’s Nest in the City

Reflecting on the simple joy of watching for a rare sight in the city center: a pair of bald eagles that have briefly made Dallas their home.
Photo courtesy Ben Sandifer

There was an eagle’s nest in the city, our dirty concrete city, and I wanted to show the kids. We had an hour to kill, and it was a mild day in mid-February, so I told them to grab their shoes.

I found a decent pair of binoculars that had been lifted from grandpa’s house. We had another “kids” pair that we’d come to realize didn’t so much amplify what you were looking at as it framed it in a neat circle. 

I set Amazon to Encanto and we rolled the windows down. The nest was close to our neighborhood, a few big streets away, and as we crept along in afternoon traffic under the nest, I hugged the steering wheel to lean forward and confirm that what I had seen earlier with some friends was true: the nest was huge and it was right here, with us. 

There were little groups of people lined up across the road from tall cottonwoods, all of them staring into the branches as if waiting for aliens to descend. City-issued stanchions lined the park, hemmed in on three sides with trees. No one was allowed near the nest because the federally protected eaglets were set to arrive in late spring. 

Weeks ago the eagles had decided to build their nursery in a copse of trees surrounded by soccer fields bordered by a busy road, then bike lanes, more fields, and eventually a mid-sized city lake.

They seemed to have found the perfect place to find food of all types, but they could also see the lights of downtown Dallas, the neon skimming the horizon at night. The surrounding neighborhoods were enthralled with these eagles. People on NextDoor argued over what to name them and provided updates on their seemingly every move.

Daily, people sat across Buckner Road and photographed them, drank coffee while watching them, hung out, and waited for these majestic eagles to take flight. While running my own errands I couldn’t help but also look up with the crowd as I passed; it’s not every day you have groceries in your trunk and eagles patrolling overhead. 

Pulling into the parking lot, I slowed to allow bikers and joggers the right of way, looking frantically for any kids darting about. I parked in the closest spot, afraid to test my luck against people who seemed to be blowing about in the wind. 

As the kids piled out of the car, I gathered them together so we could walk as a group across the street before letting them splinter off toward the place where everyone stood watching the eagles. People gathered in assorted combinations, some in pairs, some alone. One large group of boys with the same blond bowl cut played tag around their moms, who stood in black yoga pants. 

There were only a few places that were ideal to spot the nest through the branches of other trees. But because it was a large field, drawing close to someone else felt unnecessary. As if we were late to a movie, we tiptoed around and tried different spots before scrunching down and squatting next to two women who stood together. I hoped by making myself the height of my youngest that I wasn’t intruding in anyone’s eye or body space. 

I pointed and whispered look! I pointed some more. I embraced each child and put my arm next to their heads to guide their eyes to the nest until they saw it. I said, Do you see their little white heads poking out? 

With my youngest, just four and a half, I tried to help him find a landmark branch or power line to follow. He kept saying where? where? I asked his sister to give him the better binoculars so he could scan the treetops. She hesitated for a minute before passing them over, getting her hands tangled in the strap for extra effect. 

Looking through the binoculars, my youngest started to walk toward the busy road dividing us from the eagle’s nest trees, and I pulled him back toward our clump. My middle son said wow, I see them, and then ran off to climb the trees behind us. My daughter whined that the kid-binoculars didn’t really work and twisted her toe into the ground, frustrated. I said, really? Let me see. I lifted the red plastic binoculars up and saw the nest perfectly framed, but the same size, and wondered if the frame made them feel bigger, or if holding binoculars made things feel closer. I switched from regular eyes to binocular eyes a few times to test my assumptions. 

My youngest was still struggling, so I stood up and hoisted his long body onto my hip. I described the nest as a large basket up in the top of the tallest tree, made of lots of sticks and leaves. I told him there were eggs in that nest that would hatch in a few months and the baby eaglets that emerged would have to learn how to fly from that tall tree. He said he saw the eagles, that he saw their little white heads poking out, and asked where they got their food. I said they look down on the field and see what’s running around, then they fly down and grab a snack! 

I quickly swiveled my head to look for my middle son and saw him on the bottom branches of a small tree, hoisting himself further up. 

Now that we were standing up straight, I glanced at the two ladies we had been squatting nearby, acknowledging our intrusion into their air space. They stood together like two separate people whom a lifetime of love and adoration had molded into identical selves. Their feet were planted squarely to support the sweep of their gaze, their hands balled in their pockets, and they both had white hair cut short. The wind whipped through the tufts on top of their heads. I said hello how are y’all, and they nodded with wide smiles. They each looked at me with bright eyes as I joked that I’m sure like a lot of people, the eagles never imagined they’d find themselves in Dallas. 

We stood in the wind for a minute looking up at the nest. The eagles were snuggled down against the wind; it was hard to see them. My daughter sat down to pinch at the grass, and my youngest son slid down my body to join her. 

I thought of another question to ask the older women but decided to let them have their quiet eagle watching time. Not everything has to be a party, I told myself. Not everyone needs a conversation, even though I was always desperate for them.

Everyone was in a weird place with COVID-19, anyway. Standing together with strangers and seeing their faces felt novel; I didn’t want to ruin it by talking too much, reminding them that I was breathing near them. 

But as if to brace me against the sudden gust of wind, the woman closest to me hugged my shoulders and pointed Look! There he is! Her other arm spanned the field. 

What? Where!? I asked, following her finger to the trees across the park. She held me close and kept her arm extended, He just flew into that thicket, right between that tree and that tree, she said. 

I tried to see that tree and that tree but there were so many trees. Oh, ok, wow! I said, thank you! She let her arm drop from my shoulder, but the warmth of it remained. We were standing close enough to grab hands and run off like kids, but we didn’t step apart, feigning the act of still looking between the trees. Moving to the side would have betrayed us both, would have felt violent. I planted into the ground and explored every contour beneath my feet. My eyes reached to see the little eggs through the sticks of the nest, and I twisted at the hip to check on my middle son before twisting back to focus on the space between the trees.

I heard everyone else shout before I saw the eagle high above our heads, much like lightning alerts us to thunder. He glided in wide circles above his nest, above the traffic and binoculars and telephoto lenses. We all jumped out of our trance and pointed, my youngest confused and asking to be picked up. My daughter shouted wow, I see him! I see him! My middle son ran up to grab my leg. I leaned down to readjust his brother on my hip and point up to the bird above our heads. 

He’s there! I said, He’s right there! Look! He’s up there! 

My boys looked up and pointed, and we followed the eagle until he disappeared again into the warmth and safety of his nest high above. I said, wow, so amazing! and smiled at the two ladies who turned their heads from the nest towards me in unison. Amazing, they said. 

Danielle Kimzey is a visual artist based in East Dallas. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and the Dallas Morning News

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