One Easter I spent all my spare time, when I wasn’t rock climbing, reading The Stonor Eagles. We were in Namadgi National Park just outside Canberra climbing the expansive granite slabs of Booroomba. The lovely Margaret Mortimer, intrepid travel guide, champion scone maker, could see I was so taken with this story that she insisted on cooking breakfast around our campfire for my partner Mark and myself, so I could keep on reading. (It’s difficult to read when you are at the bottom of a crag belaying someone.)
The Stonor Eagles is about Cuillin, last of the great sea eagles of Skye, who in her loneliness flies to Scandinavia in search of a mate. Eagles live well into their sixties and hers is a fascinating character and tale.
Shortly thereafter we were in Perth for work with a week-end off to explore the scenic and gourmet delights of the region. We ventured south to the stunning kauri trees of Cape Leeuwin and the famed Margaret River wineries, however the highlight of the trip – by far – was not easy glasses of mellow chardonnay, but a fledgling (pardon the pun) bird of prey rehabilitation centre, Eagle Heritage.
These days they have an entry fee. Back then, the softly-spoken owner, who reminded me of my brother, Greg, only asked for a donation. That day we dug deep into our pockets for we were in awe of what he was trying to accomplish. He was rehabilitating eagles and raptors from all over the vast Australian continent. He had struck up an arrangement with the now defunct Ansett Airlines to transport injured birds to him from anywhere in Australia. He was working with local farmers to obtain any carrion or road kill that they came across, trying to educate them that raptors did not kill live animals. The cages he had built for each eagle were considerable, easily 25 metres long and 6 metres high, so birds could coast and flap their wings from one roost to the other. Every dollar this chap made he poured into this park for his beloved birds. That Friday we were the only people there and we didn’t want to leave. We watched him as released birds that would fly into a tall gum tree then fly down to snatch a piece of meat out of his trusting hand, while I stood only two metres away. I got to pull on heavy-duty leather gloves and carry around a black kite roosting on my wrist (no sudden movements). It was surprising how heavy she was. (In the movies they make that look so easy.) When we finally drove away, part of me wanted to stay behind and be a part of his extraordinary venture.
Fast forward a few years and I found myself in the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. Haida Gwaii as it’s known in the Haida language, has the highest density of Bald Eagles in the north American continent. You can’t help but notice them. They’re perched on wharf posts like sentinels guarding some ancient realm.
And so when I came round to writing Come Full Circle, set in British Columbia, these two experiences merged and two of my characters, Lindsay, and newcomer, Ryan, shares my love of eagles. Here’s a sneak peak:
Off to starboard was the low-lying, densely forested landscape of Graham Island. Like Canada, the mountains of the Queen Charlotte Islands were on the west coast; the tops of a submerged range that plummeted into the ocean and a few kilometers offshore gave way to the continental shelf that dropped off even more dramatically to unknown depths. This side had the shallow sea but to Lindsay there was nothing shallow about it.
‘The original name for the Queen Charlottes was Xaadala Gwayee,’ Ryan said. ‘Islands on the boundary between two worlds: the sea and the sky.’
The name couldn’t be more apt. From her vantage point the island was like a long thin magnetic band that pulled the sky and the sea together. Today that sky was a warming blue, the sea a calm green blue, the island the result of their rapturous union: the silhouetted spires of cedar and pine and hemlock their climactic sonograph. Was it a land old and untouched or was it new?
Before long there was an announcement asking them to return to their vehicle. Once they’d docked they drove over the boat’s metal ramp, shuddering onto the island. But rather than vibrations what they felt was a sense of wonder. Perched casually on two of the pier’s wooden poles, almost like centurions vetting new arrivals, were two bald eagles.
‘Where else in the world would you see such a sight?’ Lindsay whispered in awe.
‘Nowhere,’ grinned Ryan.