Here at the American Bald Eagle Festival in Haines, Alaska, releasing eagles back to the wild is part of the program. This year there are five. Wounded or sick birds that have been revived by local animal shelters are brought here for this purpose. A prominent Chilkat Chief of the Raven Clan released one at dawn today. Dressed in full regalia — button blanket and traditional wooden hat — he said a few words in the Tlingit language. Then, on the count of three, he threw the bird into the air. To sustained applause from onlookers, the bird took off across the snowy valley and merged with other eagles among the distant cottonwoods.
The two main clans here are the Eagle Clan and the Raven Clan. In this culture Ravens must marry Eagles and Eagles must marry Ravens. It is the mother’s line that determines lineage. As the Bald Eagle is the Eagle Clan’s sacred bird, Eagles may not touch or handle the Bald Eagle. Only a Raven Clan member can have this honour.
“There is,” says the Chief, “a universal love for freedom and a desire to see freedom happen. We cannot stand in the way of this freedom. The eagle that I have released must take its chances in the wild along with all the others that are struggling to survive.”
This valley has filled with people who have come from far and near to witness the event. They are members of the local tribes as well as birdwatchers, photographers, naturalists, artists, loggers, fishermen and their children from the nearby schools. There are tears of joy when the eagles fly.
In all of us there is an eagle. Our eagle is beautiful, strong and noble, eager to be free of some humiliating cage. In freedom we can forage on our own and take part in the competition that is life. We are not made to be contained or managed in some warm zoo. We need to feel the air in our feathers, to know the potential of our eyes and the capability of our talons.
PS: “No man has received from nature the right to give orders to others. Freedom is a gift from heaven, and every individual of the same species has the right to enjoy it as soon as he is in enjoyment of his reason.” (Denis Diderot)
Esoterica: As part of my contribution to the Eagle Festival, I gave a large painting for permanent display in their museum. From this original a 500 edition Giclee print was produced — to be sold only in their museum shop. I also donated the reproduction rights for cards, art-cards, etc. To give you an idea of the mechanics of the deal, the framed price of the limited edition print is $400, the unframed price $250. Of this figure $100 goes to the Foundation, $50 to printing and other costs, and $100 to the artist. The print may take 5 or more years to sell out. The Foundation is responsible for the ongoing bookkeeping and disbursements. There are lots of ways to do something like this, and this is not necessarily the definitive way.
This letter was originally published as “Releasing the eagle” on November 15, 2005.
“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)
If you live in the cold north like I do, this is the BEST thing you can do with a February – believe me! Join me, Hermann Brandt for my 4th annual PLEIN AIR workshop/retreat on the west coast of sunny Mexico. Casa Buena Art Retreat Center is a beautiful private residence overlooking the ocean. While our vivacious hostess, Jane Romanishko takes care of almost every need, I will guide you through the process of identifying, designing, composing and painting the gorgeous land and seascape that surrounds us. Medium: oil or acrylic.
At the end of each day, we gather on the veranda by the pool and critique our work – it’s a beautiful thing :-)
I endeavour to run a friendly, encouraging, no-pressure workshop so beginners are welcome. Minimum of 6 participants. IMPORTANT: Registration by 1 Dec 2019
I look forward to painting with you
My aim as a painter is to bring to life a slice of the world as I experience it. Light, color and form are my vocabulary.