"Last Ounce of Courage" by Larry K. Martin
"Last Ounce of Courage"
Bald Eagle Giclee Editions

A Tribute to COVID Staff and Patients at RMC in Anniston Alabama, by Dr. Larry K. Martin

With the sudden power outage at my studio, I remembered the Severe-Thunderstorm Warnings- of damaging, straight-line winds. The rain came down in torrents, almost horizontally, in translucent sheets. I stepped to the edge of the front porch and decided just to stand there and marvel at the surreal landscape despite the wind and soaking rain. The trees bent in unison, almost to the tipping point, and a dark wall of rain methodically engulfed the horizon, transforming the peaceful countryside into an ominous panorama.

Suddenly, a dark object materialized from my left and out of nowhere- an eagle, flying low, at eye level- maybe thirty feet away. At first, it seemed to be heading directly toward me, either intentionally or perhaps just in a desperate try for the shelter of the porch. But then it pivoted a few degrees, and it became apparent that this eagle was just attempting to fly past without hitting the building. “She’s on her way to find shelter around Harper’s Lake,” I thought (having seen an eagle perched there last Spring). It took only a millisecond to identify this bird as a mature Bald Eagle, with the familiar white head and tail (more likely a female, as evidenced by her large size).  

We’ve all heard that time can seem to pass much more slowly, or even come to a halt, during an extraordinarily dramatic event, such as an imminent plane crash. And so, it seemed that all movement was freeze-framed, as the eagle slowed and almost stopped in mid-air. The massive body executed a desperate half-roll. (An eagle’s head doesn’t rotate with its body when it rolls in flight; the head remains almost perfectly horizontal, allowing this bird of prey to stay visually riveted to its target during pursuit). The eagle’s glare was piercing, even while in motion, from an eye that seemed to stare at me as it swept past. At the risk of sounding overly anthropomorphic, her demeanor suggested determination rather than aggression or panic. (On second thought, eagles always seem to wear a look of determination.) It was really the strong headwind that held her in place, flying with all the effort she could muster- just as static as she would appear if in an aeronautical wind tunnel. This time-warp thing, or whatever you might call it, can be a very useful phenomenon. With it, we can absorb visual details that ordinarily would seem only a blur.

The eagle was probably oblivious to the presence of this inconsequential human being; She was fighting for her very survival. It was the wind and the rustic building that posed a threat. In another second or two, another gust could slam her, mercilessly, against the heart-pine corner of the porch. The long, powerful wings which would ordinarily respond by forming huge scoops to grasp the air were now flailing in discordant motions as if disagreeing on which direction to take. “She’s going to crash-land, any second now,” I thought- and braced for the sickening “thud.”

One of her wings seemed to touch the ground, but the opposite wing managed to capture just enough air to check the fall, and she righted herself. I almost drew a breath of relief but then remembered the old wire fence at the edge of the yard and the tangle of briar vines and shrubs just beyond, and I gritted my teeth. If there had been more time to think, I would have known better. She would not crash. A Bald Eagle is not a sparrow or even a crow. It is a powerful piece of avian machinery – built to withstand the harshest downdrafts and wind shear- a bird too great to fail.  

Then I noticed that the landing gear had not been lowered. She had no intention of crash landing or of landing at all.  After another split-second lull of wind and rain, the magnificent, winged body responded. Another dramatic half-roll and the eagle found a seam- and she shot forward as though she’d found an invisible springboard.  The narrow ribbon of stable air gave her a momentary boost in elevation. Finally, both left-wing and right-wing seemed to be on the same page. As soon as both of those tremendous wings were able to beat in sync, she rose like a Phoenix and continued her climb- above the fence and beyond the scrub brush and trees.    

Next Spring, she’ll be nesting- perched at the top of the tallest tree near Harper’s Lake.

This special edition now hangs outside of what was COVID Unit One at RMC in Anniston Alabama, to remind us of the courage it has taken to overcome many days of adversity during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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