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Notes from open land
by Wendy Lewis


Across the river from Weldon's campsite, three quarters of a mile due east from our house, a dead-grey, striated elm points dramatically at the sky, frozen in its final, sapless gesture. Most of the massive brittle boughs have snapped off into shorter, jagged appendages over the years but for as long as it remains upright, this elm has been glorified in death as a formidable look-out post for an eagle I like to pretend I have a relationship with. This is her watering hole; from here she surveys the river valley and checks out her breakfast options, possibly including my little Jack Russell terrorist, Romeo.

I've been hooking up with this bird occasionally for a few years now and since the American bald eagle's territory will range from 1,700 to 10,000 acres depending on food availability, I'm assuming it's the same bird. She has staked her claim on our 160 acres and while I've never found a nest, this year I've seen her regularly these mornings since spring when I walk the boys. Sometimes I spot her circling the prairie or flying low around the bends of the river. One day, walking along the riverbank, our eyes met at a distance of only 30 feet. She was perched on the lowest bough of a black walnut tree hanging right over the river and slowly turned to stare at me. Her eyes were enormous, flashing mustard yellow and unflinching. I wondered how I looked through her eyes, into her brain, her discriminating feral observation. She was aloof and unalarmed and after leveling me with her fearless gaze, she looked away, appearing disinterested. Eagles are at the top of the food chain and have no predators, save their collisions with the human race; fatal gun shot wounds, electrocution, poisoning, and even auto accidents most likely causes of death in their 30-year life spans. I thought about death in the city. I stood there for about five minutes fascinated with her size and the subtleties of her movements, held by her flashing glances, finally leaving her to carry on her day as I went on with my own.

One night a few weeks ago, I had a late rehearsal in the city, arriving home just before 2AM. My husband had spent the afternoon cutting up enormous white pine branches on the perimeter of our property downed with the heavy snows of an early spring storm, months prior. He was sitting by the amber light of the fire pit when I pulled into the driveway. I hauled my gear into the house and poured myself an Irish whiskey, joining him there. A misshapen moon was rising in front of us between two massive white pines on the southern edge of the lawn. We said little. There seemed to be no difference between the temperature of my skin and the still, fragrant air around me. The fire had relinquished itself into the afterglow of its previous, more ardent blaze. The yard was once again transformed into an amphitheatre where the rising sun and moon were always perfectly framed to our point of view. We were gently passing a wordless football of thought between us; how we came to be together on this amazing piece of ground at the same time - this night, this moment in time, this timelessness. I turned and looked into the eyes of this man I love. If my heart had given out at that moment, it would have been the most blissful exit imaginable from this insane planet - consciousness breaking up and dissipating into the bigger picture. Exploded, scattered and sent aloft.

After sound check, there were perhaps twenty-five suspended minutes before the doors of the Walker Art Center opened and the buzzing opening preview crowd swarmed into the galleries embracing the life work of Diane Arbus, and another hour before we took the stage to entertain the hive. We descended the stairs and found ourselves uncomfortably alone, save the invisibility of the guards, surrounded by myriad eyes crawling from white walls suspended in gradated black and white flesh. Their eyes. Our eyes on theirs through the gentle, abducting lens of a camera pressed against her heavy-lidded, insatiable, sad eye. I wondered what of our eye remains after our bodies are shorn off from them. I wondered if what we see becomes limitless in the realm of what happens next. I wondered what she was looking for, and if she found anything resembling it before she took her life in July of 1971.

©2006 Mental Contagion • Making Space for Visual Artists & Writers