This is a strong place.
The air is clean and clear, with a scent of sticky cottonwood buds. It hasn’t rained for a while. Rings of yellow pollen encircle puddles. A fine dust – rock ground to flour by distant glaciers – was carried here by the River, dried by the sun, moved by the wind. Cottonwood fluff floats by, gathering, snowdrift-like, in eddies along the edges of buildings. The wind picks up, clouds form, squalls shower snow on Glacier Mountain, thunder rolls. Sun, hail, rain, sun. The light changes and moves on the mountains and the flats. Wild roses and lupines are grateful, washed free of their river-dust.
The River. The River. The Yukon. Brown, silt-laden, roily, current moving at a steady six miles an hour, hauling driftwood down and out toward the Bering Sea. It demands respect. No – it doesn’t. It’s impartial, like the sea. The River doesn’t care much one way or the other what happens to you. Graves in the old cemetery on the hill are marked “Unknown.” Strangers, like that driftwood, landing on the bank below town. Stories untold.
The River is mighty. And Eagle is in a dynamic, high-energy place of power on the River. The town sits on a ninety-degree curve, where the River bends from an east-west straightaway and begins to flow north. Eagle is on the left bank; as you float downstream you are headed north. So downriver is up north, upriver is down south. Like trying to navigate by a sun that hardly sets, it can be difficult to get your bearings.
The River curves at Eagle because it is forced over by a massive bluff that looms a thousand feet above the water. The bluff, named for the Bald Eagles who nested there a hundred years ago, now is the home of Peregrine Falcons. They will scream and threaten, flying in circles around you, if you climb anywhere near their nest. The bluff, from certain viewpoints upriver, is a perfect isosceles triangle. It is a pyramid.
Pyramid power. Peregrine power.
Violet-green Swallows perform daredevil feats: bank, spin, turn, dive. Say’s Phoebe flutters and flits for insects. Canadian Tiger Swallowtails float on the currents of the breeze. Grayling, burbot, whitefish, and pike swim the murky waters of the River. Shovelers, wigeon, and pintails are spooky and flush from the pond; they are survivors and intend to keep surviving. A solitary moose wanders through the muskeg. Marmots whistle up there on the bluff.
It’s so quiet a single bee passing by sounds like a swarm. There is no road noise, no highway, no industry, no jet plane overhead. Once or twice a day a small plane lands at the gravel airstrip, takes off again a few minutes later. That’s it. White-crowned Sparrows, Swainson’s Thrushes, and Common Yellowthroats cast their songs into the wind, like fishermen looking to make a good catch.
And if you listen closely, you can hear the River, a song-signature of silt and glacier-grit, hissing.