I once believed that my artistic muse came in the form of a small song bird. Every time I packed up photography gear and hiked deep into a forest or to a canyon’s edge, there’s been a solitary chirpy bird either following me along the way, or waiting for me at trail’s end.
When my engineering job had a commute attached to it, I always parked at the end of the parking lot. The extra distance gave me time to accept the reality of spending the rest of the day in a cube. Maybe the long walk made the situation worse than it was. Regardless, I related to a line in a Keith Urban song, “Some days go by that I don’t even see.”
I planned my escape during those walks. And every time as I walked, I heard the song of a solitary bird perched on a light pole or traffic sign. The bird was not always the same size and shape, and the song was not always the same, but it was always for me. The songs were musical versions of phrases like, “I’m here,” “Don’t give up,” “It gets better,” and my favorite, “If you only knew…”
When we moved to Atlanta so I could attend Savannah College of Art and Design, the bird followed and the songs continued. Whenever I’d become overwhelmed by the combination of engineering work and the demands of a Master of Fine Art program, I’d take a walk. I always heard the song. It wasn’t always there when expected, but I always heard it when I needed it most. Recently, I’ve noticed that my bird muse is missing. In fact, it’s been gone for a while. I’m not even sure for how long.
We’ve seen eagles in the area lately. I’ve stopped several times to watch them feed on roadkill. It’s interesting how an eagle commands respect from other creatures. Once on the way to work, I was convinced that what I saw out in a field was a large brown dog with a bright white head sitting on top of a dead deer. It seemed so weird that I stopped to check out why a dog would just sit on a dead deer. As I got closer, the dog was actually a massive bald eagle enjoying a deer meat breakfast.
Not far from the eagle was a group of turkey buzzards (I think a group of turkey buzzards is technically known as a “venue,” but that title gives this gang more respect than perhaps they deserved!). The buzzards were anxious to sample the roadkill. Each time the eagle looked down to take a bite, the group inched a little closer, all huddled shoulder to shoulder in one black mass of awkward buzzardry.
This pattern repeated a few times, until the eagle finally stopped feeding, raised its head, and stared at the buzzards for what seemed like a full minute. Every buzzard in that “venue” looked down and away from the eagle, out of respect, fear, or both. They assumed submissive postures, as if saying, “We’re good right here. Sorry for disturbing your meal, Sir. Please continue. Can we get you anything?”
A turkey buzzard’s body is almost as large as an eagle’s, but size of the opposition doesn’t seem to matter to the eagle. Apparently, being outnumbered by venue-to-one is also not an issue either. The reality is, an eagle is an eagle. Turkey buzzards are not and they know it.
This morning I took a walk, and thought about the plans that Alane and I have made to leave the area. I’m thankful for my work-from-home engineering job, and that I no longer had to get myself mentally prepared for the cube, but I thought about how I missed the morning bird muse greeting. I wondered what had happened to my little song bird and why he never visited anymore. I wondered if I would meet another when the house sells and we eventually move on.
After adjusting my ear buds and looking down to select another song, I looked up to see a car coming toward me. The car began to drift out if its lane and onto the walking path directly toward me. I told myself that the driver would steer back into the lane any second… Yes any second now…
As the car came closer, still on the path, I noticed that the driver was leaning forward against the steering wheel with his head tilted sideways. The side of his face was against the dashboard, and his forehead was almost against the windshield. He seemed to be straining to look directly overhead as he drove his way toward a manslaughter charge. Just as I prepared to jump to the left and out of harm’s way, he noticed me and made a quick correction back into his lane.
I can’t remember, but I may have said a few pleasant muse-like words of encouragement in the general direction of the driver’s tail lights. I felt exactly like Stephen King for a moment, except for the famous and lucrative literary career, and the fact that the van that hit him catapulted his broken body almost 20 feet and into a ditch.
I looked up to find out what had the driver so distracted, and that’s when I saw it. A solitary bald eagle flew at a relatively low altitude, directly in front of me. As the bird dropped toward the ground, he arched his wings and soared upward. He leveled off and hovered for a while, making small adjustments to compensate for changes in the breeze. I smiled because an eagle was hovering directly in front of me about 50 feet off the ground. Then he sliced through the air and into a climb, and performed a graceful turn into another steep dive.
When he pulled out of the second dive and began to climb, he continued climbing so that he eventually became a tiny spot in a cloudless sky. I stood there for a while, watching him get smaller. I was oblivious to everything else. Until a man pulled up next to me to ask if I needed a ride, it was just me and a solitary majestic bird of prey.
That’s when it hit me. I had just been introduced to my new muse – and I don’t mean the distracted driver or the helpful stranger. The cute little song bird I knew when I was younger served its purpose. Once upon a time, I needed encouragement and got it. What do I need, now that I’ve been given freedom to fly? Keen vision and a spirit of adventure. And to never doubt who I am.
I don’t need to be whistled to as I walk along a well-worn path. An eagle doesn’t hold your hand. He inspires from a distance. Sometimes that distance is the inspiration. I don’t need to have regular visits from an eagle to receive creative motivation. I’ve seen a captive eagle up close, and it’s sad – not the eagle, the captivity. I’ll probably rarely see an eagle, and when I do, it may be only a fleeting glimpse. That’s OK. In fact, I ‘m not sure I need to seek after any more signs. I don’t need a constant reminder of the eagle’s presence to know he’s out there doing all things dangerous, daring and majestic, just because he can.
I don’t want to be overly dramatic. I was not nearly killed or almost seriously injured today. I had enough time to get out of the way. Today served as a reminder of how quickly and easily it can happen though. What if the eagle had distracted me 30 seconds before he distracted the driver of the car? You could call me Stephen King, or at least Richard Bachman.
Instead of an introduction to my new muse this morning, my muse could have been introduced to a human breakfast. At least he would have kept my remains from becoming food for the venue. I can almost see him perched on my rib cage, ripped flesh in his razor talons, staring down the turkey buzzards.
“Tastes like chicken, but you’ll never know…”