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The Eagle Tree(10)
Ned Hayes

“Okay,” I said. “I am here now.”

“Good,” he said. “Look at me.” I glanced at him, and he began to smile, and I looked away quickly, before his face changed. “You okay?” he said.

“Okay,” I repeated. “I am here now.”

“Yup, I heard that.” He gave a long sigh. “Let’s go then.” He turned the car on, and the engine made a high hum, a sound I matched with my next breath. I could keep this sound going a long time—the whole way home, if I was lucky. It is good to be in tune with the engine.

“Anything distract you in the forest?” he said. “Your mom might worry that we’re so late. Thought I told you to be down earlier.”

“Murrelet,” I said to him.

“Is that right?” he said. He sighed again, but he did not say anything else for a long moment. I did not know if he heard me correctly. Because the marbled murrelet is a very rare bird to have seen—that is, if I identified it correctly.

Then he spoke again. “Tell me about this mur-let. Is it a tree?”

“No, of course it is not a tree,” I said. I could see the pages of Birds of the Pacific Northwest Coast in my mind, and I chose some sentences to describe the murrelet accurately and precisely. I thought Uncle Mike probably did not want to know all of the information I could see on the page, so I tried to condense what I knew about the murrelet.

“The marbled murrelet is a seabird. It lives in the ocean. The marbled murrelet lays a single egg inland on an old-growth tree branch.”

“Ah,” said Uncle Mike. After a minute, he asked a question. “Okay, why do they build their nests here?”

“The murrelet doesn’t have a nest. They just lay an egg on a branch.” I do not tell Uncle Mike that I have never heard of one laying an egg on a Ponderosa Pine, but there is a lot unknown about the murrelet. Then I remember another recent discovery. “They found a murrelet chick in an Alder and on a cliff. So who knows where they lay eggs? They are a mystery to scientists.”

“A mystery, huh?” Uncle Mike laughed. “The egg is abandoned on a solitary tree somewhere? Yeah, I’d say they’re mysterious!”

“The egg does hatch,” I said. “The chick comes out. The parents fly back and feed it with fresh fish from the ocean.”

“Wait a second—ocean birds here? We’re over ten miles inland, March. We’re not right on Puget Sound. Why would an ocean bird lay an egg here?”

“That is what the book said. Murrelets lay an egg in an old-growth forest. They can go as far as fifty miles inland. The chick lives alone on the branch and eventually spreads its wings and flies back to the ocean.”

“With its parents?”

“No, alone. The parents leave it alone for a long time. No one knows how the chick knows how to go to the ocean. Or which direction the ocean is in. It is a rare bird. It is a mystery. No one knows much about them. No one gets close to them. No one sees them.”

“No one gets close to them. No one sees them,” Uncle Mike repeated. “So how do you know that you got close to one? That you saw one?”

“I identified it by comparison to the picture I saw on October 14 in Birds of the Pacific Northwest Coast.”

“So you don’t know for sure. Could have been anything.”

“No,” I said. “I do not know for sure. But I do not think it could have been anything. It was likely a marbled murrelet.”

“Well then,” said Uncle Mike. He did not say anything else all the way home. I did not say anything else either. I was in tune with the engine.

I was looking forward to coming back to climb the Eagle Tree. Maybe the next day.


The next day was Tuesday. I have school on Tuesday. My school is Olympia Regional Learning Academy, or ORLA. It is a public school, but it does not have the different classes and teachers that my mother and Uncle Mike told me about when they described to me their time in middle school and high school. The students in my class do not move to other classes with other teachers. We have only one teacher.

His name is Mr. Gatek, and he has hair that makes him look like a man named Albert Einstein. I have a poster of Albert Einstein on my wall. Only Einstein’s hair was white, and Mr. Gatek’s hair is a light brown, similar to the brown of a hazelnut from the Corylus cornuta. I do not have a poster of Mr. Gatek on my wall.

There are also other desks and other students in the classroom. In the past year, there have been sixteen students who have desks. For forty-seven days, there were seventeen students, but then one student left, so now we have only sixteen again. I am one of the sixteen. I number the desks in my mind, and that is how I keep track of the number of desks.

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