Column: Release changes both human and avian lives

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 11, 2005

By Al Batt, Tribune Columnist

&8220;How are you doing?&8221;

I ask.

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&8220;Do you remember junior high school?

&8220;I do remember a large red-faced man called Coach who forced us through a training period where we learned such life skills as jumping jacks.&8221;

&8220;Yeah, that’s the time period I’m talking about.

It was when we took ag and shop in school.’

&8220;I have a vague recollection of those bygone years,&8221; I say.

&8220;Well, sir, I’m thinking maybe I should go back to school and take those classes all over again.

My garden was a disaster this year.

I planted razor blades and cabbages.&8221;

&8220;Razor blades and cabbages?

Why on earth did you do that?&8221;

I ask.

&8220;Boy, you do drink from the hick cup.

I wanted to raise some coleslaw.

Your problem is that your attention span is so short that you, er, uh…what was I talking about?

Oh, never mind.

I’ve decided to tackle a couple of home repair projects.&8221;

&8220;What kind?&8221;

&8220;There are only two kinds of home repair projects.

There are those too big to do myself and there are those too small to bother with.

The first kind, I can’t afford, and the second kind, if left alone, will develop into something I can’t afford either.&8221;

&8220;Tonight, I will softly cry myself to sleep because you are making sense to me.&8221;

&8220;Let me drop you a hint.

Help me shovel out my snow blower.&8221;

&8220;You call that a hint?&8221;

&8220;When I drop a hint, I like to hear it thud.&8221;

The returning

We are not promised an easy life.

Neither are the bald eagles.

For an eagle, the living is never too easy.

Things happen.

I was in Haines, Alaska to watch a release of bald eagles that had been rehabilitated and deemed ready to be returned to the wild.

Bald eagles gather along the Chilkat River outside Haines to feed on chum salmon in open waters during the fall and winter.

The bald eagle is our national bird.

Perhaps because of that, it is as much a legend as a bird.

The bird is the embodiment of freedom.

The personification of the American dream.

It was a cold, short day.

Light had become in short supply.

As I drove to the release site, the local public radio station played country music featuring songs about misbehaving people in need of forgiving.

The eagles I was about to see released were birds that had made mistakes.

They were birds that were victims of misfortune.

Accidents had robbed them of their ability to fly for a time, but thanks to the work of caring and committed rehabilitation experts, the eagles would be returned to the wild.

A friend from California, Preston Cook, was one of those fortunate souls whose generosity allowed him to release a bald eagle several years ago.

Releasing the eagle was a life-changing event for Preston.

He told me that the experience is a part of each and every one of his days.

Many folks gathered at the point of release.

Most all were sporting cameras.

For the wildlife artist or photographer, the bald eagle is his or her inevitable subject.

It was a frigid day of blue, white, and gray.

Noses ran in the cold.

Feet attempted to stay warm by stamping in the snow.

Eyes teared, not from the temperature, but from the occasion, as the lives of the eagles to be released were reviewed in detail.

The eagles were transported in pet carriers.

I watched intently as the first of which had its door opened at a location facing the Chilkat River.

There was a moment’s hesitation as the eagle questioned its good fortune.

A seductive pause to the viewers.

Then it burst into the air with the suddenness of a flipped switch into a flight followed by hundreds of eyes.

Camera shutters clicked as human hearts ticked.

The rapid blinking cameras capturing the moment.

Taking photographs is a cheap method of buying the perfect day.

A feathered flight to freedom.

An exquisite elegance.

For an instant, the eagle became a bronzed statue in flight.

A flash of sun highlighted its escape.

An eerie brilliance of dreamscape.

Innocent and intimidating at the same time.

The eagle went back to where it belonged.

Freed to live a life of salmon dinners.

Other eagles were released.

The birds flew with a resolve as though the prospect of paradise awaited them.

Each eagle flew with a sense of purpose.

They flew like they understood.

They got it.

The eagles underwent an accelerated transition from restrained to excitement.

We watched the eagles away.

Like a puff of smoke, the eagles were gone from our sight, but they will linger forever in our hearts.

The release created feelings more powerful than words could convey.

I felt silly with delight as I saw eagles reflected in the eyes of the people near me.

No one said a farewell.

The thoughts were a collective, &8220;Welcome home!&8221;

I could almost hear some country crooner croaking out a song about misbehaving eagles who needed forgiveness.

Life is a knotted tapestry, laced with severity.

We hope for redemption.

We sometimes travel without ever arriving, but there are those special moments.

An opportunity to see the release of a bald eagle into the wild is a temptation that should not be resisted.

You can’t remember tomorrow.

The release changed lives &045; both avian and human.

It was one of those marvelous occasions when hopes and dreams coincided with reality.

It gave us all reason to wake up hopeful.

Christmas Bird Count

Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.

Does it sound like a song to you?

Well, it’s the results of last year’s Christmas Bird Count held in


Please join me and other bird enthusiasts in Freeborn County as we count birds on Saturday, December 17.

Volunteers are needed to count birds in territories as well as counting birds at backyard feeders.

It is fun.

Beginners are welcome.

Please call me at 845-2836 or e-mail me at for more information about Albert Lea Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count.

We need your help.

Salvation Army/Hy-Vee

I am going to be ringing the bell all day long for the Salvation Army at Hy-Vee on Dec. 19.

My lovely bride will be relieving me when hunger strikes me.

Please stop in and say &8220;hi&8221; to Poor Mrs. Batt.

She needs your support.

So does the Salvation Army.

Costa Rica

Please join me as I lead a trip to Costa Rica for Good Earth Village February 28&045;March 9.

For more information on the trip, please go to

or contact Kathy Bolin at 507-346-2494 or at

Thanks for stopping by

“Those who move mountains begin by carrying away small stories.&8221;

&045; Chinese proverb

“Life is a coin.

You can spend it any way you wish, but you can only spend it once.&8221; &045; Lillian Dickson


(Allen Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. E-mail him at