An Eagle's Eye View
Once again I stand on the shore looking out on the ocean. As always, I am awed by nature. The sky is clear. Waves roll in as they always do, yet appearing unique. The sand connects water with land. Enormous beach logs laze in the sun. Swallows sweep and swoop. A group of twenty or so glaucous-winged gulls fly overhead. High above a bald eagle silently glides. Always there is something to watch; always something to learn.
Today I am thinking about extreme human poverty and reviewing the facts I know. Over a billion people worldwide have an income of less than a dollar a day. Thirty thousand people die because of poverty every dayone every three seconds. AIDS and famine are devastating the African continent. Basic education, taken for granted by the likes of me, is not even a dream for most children in the poorest countries. I believe Bono of U2 who says “We have the technology, we have the resources, we have the pharmaceuticals, we have the “know how”, but do we have the will to make poverty history?”
In a few days the leaders of the eight wealthiest nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, United Kingdom, Japan and the United States) will meet in Scotland to discuss issues that impact the world. I imagine them wearing Amarni suits, drinking cocktails and playing golf together. I see them eating elaborate and expensive meals, riding a few hundred yards in chauffeured limousines and sleeping in luxury hotel suites. I wonder, “Will they agree to cancel debt owed by the poorest of nations to the wealthiest? Will they concretely and practically support changes in trade laws to allow poor nations to compete with the rest of us? Will they direct enough resources for basic needs such as education, health, clean water and food?” They haven’t so far? Why not? I don’t understand.
A whoosh and swawk bring me back to the present. The bald eagle has lowered altitude and is moving through the flock of gulls. “Oh, no,” I think, “one of those gulls is going to be eagle lunch.” To my relief, and the gulls’ too I suspect, the eagle passes through the flock toward the water. Completely focused on what he sees, he breaks the surface of the water and grabs a foot-long fish in his talons. Lucky day for the gullslast day for the fish.
I know there is an eagle nest a little north of here and this eagle seems headed toward it. Perhaps nestlings are waiting there for a meal. They will have to wait a little longer, however, because an angry crow arrives and plans change. This crow believes that the captured fish should be his and tells the eagle about it with loud caws, flapping wings and a hot pursuit. Both birds land on an evergreen tree. Perching on a branch directly above the fish-grasping eagle the crow aggressively demands the foodall of it! This will be over in a few minutes and I wonder who will win; who will have a full meal. It is a huge fish. There is plenty for both and the families of both, but does this occur to either of them?
Five minutes pass, then ten, fifteen more with no let up in the altercation. I consider returning to my cabin to get my birding scope. There may not be anything to see by the time I get there and focus my scope but I give it a try. This argument is serious; neither side gives an inch. “Caw, caw, caw,” the crow yells while leaning precariously over his branch and snapping at the eagle. The eagle’s strategy is to sit in statuesque stillness holding the fish and glaring at the crow. His piercing eyes would certainly scare me into subservience. Not so for these avian males. “No way am I giving up on this fight,” they seem to communicate. “I am not giving an inch. That whole fish is mine whether I can eat it all or not.”
The plot thickens. In flies another crow. Caw, caw, caw. “Hey, guys, what’s going on?” For a few minutes the two corvids work together trying to break the eagle’s resolve. They fly directly over the eagle when he tries to eat some fish. No success for anyone. Neither the eagle nor the crows get even a bite. Crow number two leaves in disgust. “Oh heck,” I can almost hear him sigh. “I am sick of this. These bozos are never going to share. I am out of here.” Unnoticed by the feuding pair he leaves for less controversial places.
Two hours pass. I keep watching. Other campers come by for progress reports. There is no progress. The crow does not convince the eagle to give over the fish or even to share it. The eagle cannot beat off the crow without slacking his grip on the fish and possibly losing the booty.
Just as I think that this stand off might go on for the rest of the day the eagle rises up and, expanding his enormous wings, flies off toward the nest the fish dangling from one talon. The crow wastes no time in following. I think this is the end of the story, at least as far as I can observe, but from the west the black form of an immature eagle jets toward the departing pair and joins the chase. All three disappear into the clouds for a few minutes and then return to the evergreen tree.
Now there are two eagles and a crow. Eagle the Younger sits beside the “fish grasping” adult while the crow continues harassing from the branch above. I am convinced that the immature is there to support Eagle the Elder, perhaps to make sure that the baby eagles have a seafood meal today. This is not what happens. I know nothing about avian motivation.
The two eagles sit side by side, unresponsive to the crow ruckus. Perhaps Eagle the Younger is making reassuring sounds that I don’t hear, “I’ll watch him while you take a bite.” His intentions are much less cooperative however. Within minutes he makes a sudden move toward Eagle the Elder, jumping heavily onto his back. The fish falls to the ground. Eagle the Younger drops swiftly after the fish claiming it for himself. The original pair fly off empty handed. They had argued, plotted, postured and schemed for hours but in the end neither got the fish and the hungry babies were not fed.
With my attention relieved of imminent drama I think again of those eight powerful men at the G8 conference. I wish I could tell them about the eagle and the crow. I wish I could explain to them that by holding on to all the wealth they may lose it in the end. Just as the fish was too much for either eagle or crow, wealthy nations cannot possibly use all their wealth. Just as the birds seemed concerned with their own needs while ignoring those of others, so do some humans grasp at luxuries and equity while others starve and die. Being selfish does not bring compassion and peace to the world. Columbia University’s Professor Jeffery Sachs of “The Earth Institute” claims that if the 2005 G8 conference reaches out to poor nations by canceling their debt, increasing aid for basic needs and creating just trade laws, extreme human poverty will be eliminated in twenty yearsjust one generation.
The right thing to do is clear to me when I think of it in terms of eagles, crows and a fish but for politicians issues are often complex and the obvious is obscured. For hungry individuals their needs are as straightforward as their starving bodies and their dying children. Time is running out. I hope our leaders will do the right thing this year. By next year it may be too late.
Margaret H. Parkinson
Seattle, Washington 2005
Postscript: Don’t be like the “visiting crow” and turn away because the cause feels hopeless. Take action. Go to HYPERLINK "http://www.one.org" www.one.org to bring pressure on the G8 members.