Thursday, March 22, 2007

Forty Years

"Forty years on, when afar and asunder, parted are those who are singing today..." is the first line of the reunion anthem of the old Harrow School, that bastion of classical English education.

Today I heard a colleague reflect on the fate of the 40-year old eagle. Aristotle's 'History of Animals' says that the eagle will smash off its overgrown beak against granite rocks when the beak is too heavy to allow it to fly well; the South African 1st Eagle Scouts' website has the same story, expanded for a modern audience. The story appears totally apocryphal, but might be related to some eagles' very real habit of tapping their beak against rocks to remove undigested food remains (bones, feathers, hair) stuck in the craw.

The story continues that the eagle does this to permit it a new lease of life. Lighter and less encumbered, it now has thirty more years to live. Se non é vero, é molto ben' trovato, I say, echoing the old Italian adage. It has shed its beak, feathers, and even talons - it can then grow them back and be as a young eagle again.

I suppose that despite the silliness of the whole story, my own reflections are cheerful on this point. Yes, indeed I have jettisoned my talons and beak and feathers; yes, indeed have I begun the growth of a new armamentarium. But I also think about Benjamin Franklin's protest regarding the use of the Bald Eagle as a national icon - and I reproduce them below for you:

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

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Anonymous becca said...

I am confuddled. Is the eagle thing actually true or not? It was told like it was true. But it honestly doesn't sound possible.

Sunday, March 25, 2007 4:11:00 am  

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