An Eagle Named Bart
William R. Vasquez

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An Eagle Named Bart



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I picked this up on impulse. Bart is an American eagle, shot by a poacher and with extensive wing damage. With a handler, he appears in educational shows. Vasquez, his first successful handler, suffered a brain injury causing dyslexia.

At the shows, the eagle recognizes and is distinctly attracted to audience members who are also dyslexic. Explanations in the book are not entirely satisfactory; I comment further below.

An Eagle Named Bart

The Fall at Hawk Mountain

In winter stinging northeasterly winds that blow from the North Atlantic turn its stone-faced cliffs into icy sheets while the raw sea air strips vitality from the surface of the frozen ground. Unless you’re looking for utmost privacy or setting up to test yourself against the wrath of winter, Bartlett Island is not a comfortable place to be when the snow flies.

The local people know this, but they make the best of it because winters in Maine have a way of becoming habit-forming.




Diagnosis: Dyslexia

Accidents happen. It’s a phrase we hear all the time but give fleeting thought to. Of course accidents happen, it’s as much natural law as spring following winter or bees chasing honey. In this imperfect world there’s no way we avoid being touched because life is not lived in a bell jar or behind a perfect screen. Accidents are part of life, but somehow we don’t dwell on their inevitability. It’s usually “other” people who have accidents anyway, rarely us, rarely a part of our lives.

Curiously, we don’t appreciate the philosophical certainty of the phrase. Accidents happen. Yes, they do, all the time and few of us are spared. We’re able to control matters only so far, but there are moments when what we do – or don’t do – are irrelevant. Who’s ultimately responsible? I have no answer for that, but I do know you have to live through a bad accident to appreciate the inevitability of its occurrence. Accidents happen. We can’t run away from them.

What ran through my mind over and over was: I’m good for nothing.

What I should have thought was: here’s a chance to do something different.


Bart and I

Having found peace with nature I’m now certain that everything has its purpose, nothing is wasted, nothing taken for granted. Every growing thing – animal or plant – serves something or someone as food or shelter or epitaph. There are no vaccuums in nature because of the chain of interdependability; we rely on one another, and we, in turn, are relied upon. It is a perfect circle, and it offers contentment.

I was not a “one-night-stand” person – I never had been. I could not bring myself to single out certain women, chase after them and try to bed them for the sole purpose of satisfying my libido. My loneliness could never extend that far, and I was not interested in the quick relationship leading to physical satisfaction and little else. I couldn’t seek that kind of companionship because I wasn’t made that way.

Coping With Dyslexia

Eagles don’t measure their lives in terms of purpose or abstract goals, they move along on instinct and stimulation. While I equate having dyslexia with acquiring a handicap and mourning the might-have-beens, Bart modifies his behavior simply and without an appearance of sorrow. He was injured, but life did not stop. He coped and he adjusted, instinctively and appropriately.

He wasn’t like us humans with our consciences and our breast-beating. Lucky Bart, he never had to endure feeling sorry for himself.

My dyslexia will be with me always, I accept that. What I finally came to realize, after those months and months of despondency and searching, was that there were other compensations and dyslexia was a “condition” not unlike a trick knee or an aversion to seafood. There were some things you couldn’t do, some things you couldn’t handle. It didn’t mean, however, that life had to stop. There were ways of getting around a “condition” like dyslexia.

One thing I found was the development of my powers of observation. [...] I noticed that what I saw in the world around me seemed more profound, more starkly beautiful than I would have imagined. I’ve wondered if this was connected in any way to my dyslexia. I find now I can see beauty where most people fail to look.

Note (Hal’s):
I suspect this may be related to the eagle’s odd ability. See my comment below.

— end note



If one of the senses is damaged or destroyed, the others take over, and in my unscientific musing, I wonder if the right side of the brain, which controls my artistic, intuitive side, has come to the rescue of the left side, which controls my thinking, rational side. If there is an imbalance inside my head, I’m glad it is my love of beauty that has been enhanced.

I had no one with whom I could share the daily portions of my life and I suppose it was only human that I yearned for something more. But Bart was a wild creature. He would never be tame, no matter how long he had been in captivity. [...] Bart would not be tamed because he didn’t have instincts that would allow him to become tame, the way a dog does, for instance.

The Eagle Shows

What influence did the dyslexia have in Bart’s urge to be close to people? How could he know?

A veterinarian I spoke with suggested the bird might be picking up electromagnetic waves that could come from someone with dyslexia. He likened it to an electroencephalogram. Eagles have receptors in their brains which decode magnetic signals from the earth and provide navigational assistance. Perhaps, this veterinarian thought, these magnetic signals at close range could pick up human brain waves. He hastened to say he had no scientific proof for this theory, it was only a supposition.

But then he added that no one seems to have come up with any other plausible idea. And he was right. I know what I saw, and I know what Bart had to be feeling. Somehow, he was able to single out those with dyslexia, and the explanation had to have some physiological base (unlike the ESP experiences in my family which we know had a parapsychological explanation). Dyslexic energy had to be at the bottom of it, though I believe that if he and I hadn’t become so close, he might not have been sensitive to the dyslexia.

Note (Hal’s):
This explanation is too fanciful for me. Given that the eagle clearly recognizes and responds to cues to human emotional states, the discussion of the effects of dyslexia above suggests a more likely explanation involving personal reactions to an unusually close encounter with an eagle.

As to the parapsychological phenomena, they’re also described in the book. I have my reservations about their basis as well. Nevertheless, I question only the explanations, not the accounts; this author is far too honest and open in other matters. My own preconceptions are insufficient excuse to doubt his word.

— end note

text checked (see note) Oct 2008

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