Golden Eagles over Franklin Mountain
by Robert Bensen
On Oct. 25, 2018, we counted 128 Golden Eagles, a single-day record for eastern North America. The previous single-day high was 71 (Nov. 11, 2015) so the magnitude of this big day cannot be overstated. The reason for this Golden Eagle push two weeks before the traditional migration peak, is unknown.
—Andy Mason, Franklin Mountain Hawkwatch 2018 Report
The scaffold bristled with digital Yashicas clamped on scopes
and monopods strutting in khaki and camouflage, as a flock
of hawk-watchers scanned quadrants of sky from Otego
to the peaks where the Susquehanna swerves into the valley, and east.
I stood by, naked eye aswarm with floaters the one,
the other useless that magnifies and smears every human face.
Peter, half-felled by flu, and Becky tallied the count
and helped the dozen-some visitors identify specks
that could be buzzard, or goshawk, or harrier, or sharp-shinned
or rough-legged or Cooper’s or red-tailed hawks, or merlin, falcon,
kite or kestrel, among twenty-nine listed, including Unknown Raptors,
hoping for Goldens riding the polar stream from Canada, or, better, one
gliding low and hungry on a hunt. I couldn’t see diddle.
And it seemed weird to me to have the drum, but to my hand ungloved
the skin felt warm and taut. So I slipped away and up the path,
deer-silent for the spring of thatch underfoot.
I dug my heels in and labored up the grade, paused
to catch a breath at the hill’s brow, midway through the field
walled in by limb-laced fir and hardwood, when a shape or shadow rose—no,
an enormous bird rose above the brim and—Wait! I yelled and I swear
it gave pause mid-air while bone-chilled I fumbled the drum,
and out of a cloud of sage-smoke started a roll of thunder
that closed in, closed fast and passed, then the song brought
a line of thunders helping the verse find drafts and currents
to ride and sign God-knows-what to the bird, white flame-tongued
wings that skimmed the tree-rim, gliding so slowly with the song
that so tethered the two of us it seemed the wall of trees revolved
the way between the potter’s thumb and fingers the new bowl turns.
We shared the easy slip of air around the bowl of circled trees.
Once around, his flight feathers splayed, trimmed then splayed,
eyes holding steady gaze, with each lift of song a fresh wind. A quick
turn of his head and he vanished. Who’d not be at first forlorn?
But filled with that glory who’d mourn or sorrow for long
or deny he’d gone to let the others of his kind know,
ready for passage through this valley to the Catskills, that here,
here someone had kept the song the eagles gave so long ago:
Wanbli gleska, naha anunca, heya a uh chun kay.
Mea trocha heya anpetu wawakeay:
“Golden eagles, Spotted eagles, the first to fly with the dawn,
come see the people trying to become human beings! Come!”
So they did and were counted: one-hundred twenty-eight strong.
Previously published in Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society Newsletter, January 2020. Find the poem at this link.
Also previously published in Blood, River, and Corn: A Community of Voices, ed. Terra Trevor, March 2020. Find the poem at this link.
PHOTO: Golden Eagle coming in for a landing. Photo by gardenofeaden.blogspot.com, All Rights Reserved
NOTE: The Franklin Mountain Hawkwatch, located on the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society Sanctuary overlooking Oneonta, New York, is noted for late-fall-season flights of Red-tailed Hawks and Golden Eagles. Franklin Mountain provides a panoramic view of the Susquehanna River Valley and surrounding hills of New York State’s Otsego and Delaware Counties. Read more about the area’s annual Golden Eagle migration at nyupstate.com.
PHOTO: Hawkwatchers, late fall, on Franklin Mountain, near Oneonta, New York. Photo by Delaware-Ostego Audubon Society, All Rights Reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Bensen is a poet, essayist, teacher, editor, and publisher in Upstate New York. Most recent among six collections of poetry are Before and Orenoque, Wetumka & Other Poems (Bright Hill Press). Poetry and literary essays have appeared in AGNI, Akwe:kon, Antioch Review, Berfrois, Callaloo, The Caribbean Writer, Jamaica Journal, La presa, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Wales, and elsewhere. He has edited anthologies of Native American and Caribbean literature, and authored a bibliographic study, American Indian and Aboriginal Canadian Childhood Studies, at Oxford University Press online. His writing has won fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Harvard University, the State of New York, Illinois Arts Council, the Robert Penn Warren Award, and others. From 1978 to 2017, he was Professor of English and Director of Writing at Hartwick College (Oneonta, New York). He conducts the community-based poetry workshop Seeing Things at Bright Hill Press and Literary Center (Treadwell, New York). He is the founding editor of two literary presses, the Red Herring Press and Woodland Arts Editions. Find more of his work at robertbenson.com.