This week, as in the foreground Washington politics continued as usual, a remarkable animal came like a messenger sent to remind me of the state of things in the background, where what’s really important is going on.
I’m using Mary Daly’s terminology here: she calls everything that mainstream society generally focuses on part of the “foreground,” which distracts us from the deeper and more significant issues and events going on in the “background.”
Instead of worrying about how the “snools” are jerking the country around from their headquarters inside the Beltway, Daly urges us to pay attention to the bigger, deeper picture of what’s happening on a global level to the ecological systems that keep us all alive.
Sometimes it’s hard to wrench my attention away from all the grotesqueries going on in the foreground. This week, I had help.
On Tuesday, as I was walking along a trail by a small river near my house, in the gathering gloom of dusk, I looked back to see my dog Loki standing stock-still near a large object that I couldn’t immediately identify.
Afraid it might be a big and potentially dangerous animal, like a raccoon, I hurried back, and was astonished to perceive that Loki was standing nose to beak with an enormous eagle-like bird.
Both animals were calm, and Loki came to me at once when I called.
The eagle, which I later identified as an osprey, turned and looked at me keenly, with a gaze I can only call commanding. Its huge, hooked beak was intimidating; this was not the kind of wild animal I would consider going anywhere near.
And yet here it was, down on the ground, strong and well-fed, clearly in its prime, but immobilized by a badly broken right wing, which was hanging twisted and useless at its side.
A human being in that condition would have been writhing and crying desperately for help.
The osprey merely stood its ground, calmly and regally, waiting.
It was still there the next morning when I went back to check on it. I had called the state Fish & Wildlife Service, and as I stood there by the eagle, a wildlife biologist called me to ask directions to the bird. He was going to bring it to a veterinarian to have its wing set, and then bring it to a shelter.
Wild raptors with broken wings almost never fly again, but there are raptor rescue centers that maintain them as ambassadors for their kind, educating the public about the beauty and importance of these magnificent birds.
I don’t know how that bird came to break its wing. There was a house not far away from where I found it; perhaps it flew into a window at full tilt?
I do know that if it had come down elsewhere, away from the trail, it would have certainly died of starvation or been eaten by a coyote, which I have seen in those woods.
In this case, human beings could be of use to this osprey, and indeed I felt very strongly, when it trained its sharp, steely gaze upon me, that it was demanding my help.
More broadly, I take my encounter with the eagle this week as a reminder to keep my focus on the bigger, deeper picture of the continual wounding of the natural world.
For every damaged osprey there are literally millions of creatures I can’t see personally, who are wounded and dying all over the Earth.
I can’t afford to lose myself in the busy-ness and distraction of foreground concerns—the headlines of mainstream media outlets, the daily housework, the struggle to make enough money to pay bills and keep my family going.
Those concerns will continue and as a functioning member of human society, I have to keep my eye on them.
But my inner eye–my third eye, my most deeply aware sense of vision–must be ceaselessly trained on the slowly unfolding planetary tragedy that is occurring relentlessly in the background. I must stay alert for opportunities to be of help to those who cannot help themselves.
I thank the beautiful osprey for this reminder, and wish it, most fervently, Godspeed.