Sunday, September 11, 2011

There Are Eagles Among Us - written Sept 2001

On September 11, 2001, I was in Palo Alto attending a three-day business meeting with my colleagues from around the world.  I had planned to meet a friend for breakfast, and was annoyed when he was late.  When he finally showed up, he told me what he had just seen on TV.  I rushed back to my hotel room, turned on the TV, and then called my husband in Colorado.  The meeting was cancelled, and since I already had a rental car, one of my colleagues and I drove home to Colorado.  When I got home, I wanted to write but felt that finishing my modern-day Emma story was inappropriate, given the circumstance.  Here's what I wrote instead.
There Are Eagles Among Us

By Jane Greensmith
Copyright © 2001. All rights reserved.

I live a stone's throw from a bike trail that loops and winds for three miles through a horse pasture, along irrigation ditches, past a sheep farm, and through neighborhoods. The horse pasture is home to hundreds, maybe thousands, of prairie dogs who scold us as we walk, jog, and bike through their neighborhood. They sit on their front-porch mounds and boldly chuck and chirrup as we approach, only to high tail it down under when our shadows finally cross theirs. The biggest tree in the pasture is a dead cottonwood on which roosts whatever bird of prey is currently holding court. Usually it's a hawk, but I've seen turkey vultures and in the winter golden eagles and bald eagles sometimes grace our skies. They ride the wind, rising and circling, scanning for mice and snakes and rabbits. They rise like smoke, carving out a piece of sky, auguring a groove in my mind's eye. That groove has a shape, and that shape is love. I love this land and sky that I share with my neighbors. I love the round of life and the trail that encircles my village and the eagles that seem to trace that circle in the sky.

Every day I lift up my eyes to the hills that stretch as far as I can see, north to south, a blue western wall. I find courage in their massiveness and peace in their steadfast watch over my home front. My twin towers—Longs Peak and Mount Meeker—are glorious. My favorite view of them is straight on. They rise out of the highway when I drive due west, symmetrical, ancient, maternal.

I called my mother Tuesday night to cry. I called her from my hotel room. Like everyone else, I couldn't turn off the TV that kept broadcasting images I could no longer bear to watch. Two new images have been burned into my brain—one is the outline of a plane in a building, the other is the avalanche of plane-torn building debris . My circles are shattered and Tuesday night I didn't think I would ever smile again. I was alone in a hotel room, my family over a thousand miles away. I couldn't hold them or touch them. I couldn't get up at night to ensure that my children were safe in their beds. I couldn't curl inside my husband's arms. So I called my mother, and we cried together.

Wednesday I left Palo Alto with Bill, a friend from work who had flown out with me Monday morning. Two days of driving the "loneliest highway in America" brought me home. Some people need people to bring them out of despair. I need solitude and great, wide, empty, wind-swept places. I need canyon walls carved by rivers, glowing with morning sun that glances off rocks, ricocheting god rays back to heaven. I need rainbows spanning valleys and dark storm clouds back lit by the setting sun. I need mountains bathed in the warm, pink light of early evening.

Bill and I rarely bothered to turn on the radio. Most of the time, we were out of range of any station anyway. We told each other our life stories, and those of our parents and their parents. How and when they came to America, what they were looking for, and what they found. We told each other stories of courage and faith, prejudice and heart ache, honor and love.

Thursday we had breakfast in a restaurant overlooking the Green River in Utah. For an hour, I sat and watched the water flow under the bridge and then swirl in an eddy caused by a sand bar before it found clear passage downstream. The farmland near the river was lush and the trees were just barely flecked with the gold of autumn. We watched slow-moving tractors cross the bridge as we ate our eggs and toast—a world away from the chaos and terror we knew were still center stage. And I wondered what would happen to this world, this remote world of green fields and lazy rivers, rosy canyons and endless vistas.

Birds are migrating now. Huge flocks rest at night in the creek bed across from my house. As I walk the trail, I startle them, sending up noisy, black-feathered plumes of starlings and grackles. Occasionally, I see a contrail again and I mentally connect the arc it makes with those of its brothers, drawing circles in my mind once more around the earth. I think about the passengers of UA 93 who fought back and made a difference. I think about firefighters and ambulance drivers, medics and airline pilots. I think about stock brokers and store clerks and journalists. There are eagles among us. The circle is unbroken.

The End

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.


  1. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

  2. Powerfully said. Thanks for sharing thoughts that are just as relevant today as they were when you wrote them. "The circle is unbroken."

  3. Very moving and heartfelt thoughts, Janet. A beautiful commemoration of 9/11.

  4. Very moving Jane! I can see how strongly connected to nature you feel and how that connection is even more important in troubled times. I think part of the troubles of the modern world could be due to a disconnect with nature.

  5. Nice one, Jane

    Louise C

  6. Powerfully said. Thanks for sharing thoughts that are just as relevant today as they were when you wrote them. "The circle is unbroken."