One winter Saturday, one of those cold Ohio days in late December or early January, my dad reads an article in the Akron Beacon Journal about bald eagles in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We decide to find ourselves an eagle, an excuse to go outdoors. You need a purpose to go out in the winter in Ohio, there’s no going outside just for the sake of being outside. Without a reason, or once the reason is forgotten, the frigid bleakness soon saps your body heat and spirit, and ice starts to form in your veins.
We bundle up, Dad and my younger brother in their winter Carhartt jackets, dirty from splitting and stacking wood in the backyard. I wear my ski jacket, the one I got in high school when I learned to ski at Boston Mills. We grab our wool hats and binoculars, jump in the truck, and take the long way through the Valley to Ira Trailhead, one of our usual starting points along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. There is one other car in the parking lot.
On the trail we head south and within five minutes we see our first bald eagle, perched on a bare branch over the Cuyahoga River. The water is brown and sluggish-looking, the white foam along the edges frozen. After a few minutes of passing the two pairs of binoculars between the three of us the eagle flies away, heading downstream. We decide to continue on, to give chase. Bald eagles aren’t uncommon here, but we don’t always see one when we come. We’ve never seen one, let alone two, in such a short amount of time. I follow in Dad’s tracks, stepping in each footprint like I did when I was little, only now I can match his stride and our feet are nearly the same size.
Another five minutes and we find another eagle, probably the same one. It’s found a companion, and the two sit in adjacent trees, silently staring out at the world. When they eventually decide to fly away they head away from the river and the Towpath. We retrace our steps back to the promised warmth of the truck, walking along someone’s cross-country ski tracks. The muted sun is on its way down. We can barely see our breath in the dusk.
At home, we eat pizza in the family room, watching television. There is a fire in the wood stove and the pets gravitate towards the warmth, lying on the hardwood floor almost touching the stove itself. We linger on the couch, no one wanting to leave for colder beds. The snow is falling softly outside, turning the track-filled yard to a clean slate, a sparkling white canvas where the deer and songbirds will write their stories.
Right now there is nothing to see through the dark windows; they’ve turned to mirrors, reflecting the firelight and TV light, reflecting us on the couch sitting together on a cold winter night in Ohio.