Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Motivation Behind “Feathered Hope”

Regular readers of the blog have heard this story before, or at least a portion of it.  If you have, I apologize in advance, but it’s one that I never tire of telling.

Print:  "Still Watchful"
Artist: Ken Schram
Date:  8/25/2012

One quiet Saturday morning in late August I was kayaking with my camera in Wisconsin's beautiful north woods when I came upon this magnificent juvenile bald eagle perched on an overhanging branch. Having hatched earlier this spring, the "baby" is now nearly as large as his parents. With the sun cresting the top of the trees and the golden rays of light falling upon his pin-feathered face and chest, he is content in the new warmth brought to this chilly fall morning.

Completely lost in the moment, I drift silently in my kayak on the windless lake. Raising camera to eye, I hear the soft whir of the lens that brings this beautiful creature into focus and then there he is in all his glory. As I watch motionless through the viewfinder he slowly turns his head to observe this strange one-eyed newcomer and it is then that the glint of the sun sparks in his eye. Click.

A few more minutes pass as I watch him and he me before it's time for me to go. This is his house after all and I certainly don't want to overstay my welcome. While brief, the experience has moved me in a way that's difficult to describe. I've certainly photographed bald eagles before, but on this quiet and tranquil morning our interaction seems meaningful in a way I can't quite comprehend. Dare I say "spiritual"?

Several hours later, still riding the high experienced from the special encounter, I sit at my desk and review the morning's photos on my computer. While still 4 or so years away from reaching his mature plumage of white head and tail, he is no less majestic than a full grown adult. His young brown eyes are so deep and intense as he stares back from my computer screen that suddenly I feel as if I'm back on the lake and "in the moment" once again. I can't help but post some images online and share the experience.

The following week I return to the lake hoping to recapture that high, but my young friend is nowhere to be found. I'm blessed with the opportunity to photograph one of its parents, but begin to assume that junior has left the nest and begun his own journey in the wild. If only my assumption could have been proven true. Instead, I learn from a friend who lives on the lake that this beautiful creature is no more. Just days after our interaction, a resident found the young bird floundering in the water dazed and confused. He was transported to an incredible group of caring and dedicated people at Raptor Education Group, but despite their best efforts he eventually succumbed to the effects of the West Nile Virus.

I'm stunned. Despite having read that as many as 40% of new eaglets won't survive their first winter, I still can't believe it. His parents worked tirelessly all summer to care and provide for this young one. He survived the perils of learning to fly. He had grown into a regal young adult only to be taken out by a tiny insect carrying a deadly virus. I can only think, "What a waste!".

But does it have to be? ….

While not affiliated with the organization, my wife and I had been familiar with the work of Raptor Education Group for some time and had been looking for a way to support their cause. We made the occasional monetary donation and did what we could to help spread the word of their heroic efforts through social media, but considering our love of bird kind and the respect we held for this organization, it never seemed like enough.  Now more than ever we were determined to find a way to take this seemingly senseless event and turn it into something positive. As it turned out, the answer we were looking for was in the title I'd given the image.

Originally titled "Watchful" in reference to the intense gaze this young eagle cast my direction that wonderful morning, that label seemed somewhat inappropriate after learning of his demise.  It didn't take long, however, to realize that despite no longer being of this earth, his gaze would always fall upon anyone having the opportunity to enjoy this one "click" I was so blessed to capture during his brief life. So for me, and hopefully you as well, he remains "Still Watchful".

To learn more about the “Feathered Hope” project, please visit us at http://www.FeatheredHope.net.



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