Friday, February 12, 2010

Free Icons

An iconic kind of day today. To start with, Lincoln. His birthday used to be a very big deal when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure we got that day off, and probably Washington’s birthday too. Mind ye, that was before President’s Day, and maybe even before we got February vacation. However, a few traditions remain. You’ll still see the odd passerby wearing a fake beard and stovepipe hat. And you can still say: “Four score and seven!” to someone and you’ll get the old reply, “Our forefathers!” with the double beard-pull. It’s rare, but it happens.

I went out after lunch, hoping for another icon. (This part’s factual.) The non-snowstorm had taken winter with it, to regroup. It was in the high thirties. No wind. Sunny. With those conditions, people unzip their coats and cardinals feel the urge to sing. And once they start those big round cherry whistles—do I mean cheery whistles? Yes, that, too—it deals winter a body blow. The first cracks appear. But though the day was ready for it, the reverse was not true. I tried Buzzell Field, where Matthew used to play Little League; Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Meadow Brook Park: all likely places for cardinals to hold forth. Nothing.

I came out at the southern end of Lower Mystic Lake and headed for home. Then I remembered the eagle. There were three or four reported around Mystic Lakes, one adult, the others variously younger. I’d given up looking for them, but what the heck, I had my binocs with me. I scanned the trees along the western shore. And there it was. The adult. Out on a projecting branch of a bare tree, next to a tall conifer. Seeing an eagle puts this soft thud in your chest. Its bigness, the weight of it. The colors: familiar as a flag’s. Chocolate brown in shingly layers. Vanilla scoop of head, I could see it turning. Seeing me in fierce close-up, no doubt. The fact of a bald eagle perched in an Arlington neighborhood, a five minute walk from home. I mean. You want an icon. There’s your icon.

When I lived in Vancouver it was still exciting to see a bald eagle, but it wasn’t uncommon. Especially around Point Grey, the part of the city jutting furthest west, you could count on seeing at least one eagle in a tree on Wreck Beach or on the edge of UBC. Also to the east, out in the valley of Pitt Meadows, which had its own weather, its own moods, its own bestiary of eagles and hummingbirds and sandhill cranes.

Tonight Vancouver was awash in icons at the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games. There were iconic bears, maple leaves, prairies, whales, mountains. I even saw a couple of eagles during one of the frequent sweeps of iconic landscape. There were also iconic Canadians like Donald Sutherland and Anne Murray and Bobby Orr. All these icons were beautifully and intricately arrayed. And expensively, of course, because art is not cheap on the grand scale. But it’s worth noting that icons are basically free. It’s the presentation that runs up the price. I would enjoy buying Donald Sutherland a cup of coffee, almost as much as I enjoyed stumbling on that eagle today. But I’d hate it if there were an icon fee I had to pay. Luckily there wasn’t (unlike for my Vancouver friends), and the ceremony was pretty cool, mostly.

Four score and seven, dudes.

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