This year’s Internet phenomenon has been the streaming video of a family of eagles atop a tree near a fish hatchery near Decorah, Iowa. The audience swelled to over 150,000 as three babies hatched and as the parents tended their young through all sorts of weather.
The drama was compelling because eaglet life is oh so fragile. We know the thing is nothing but a fluff of down as it first emerges from its shell, and survival can be such a brutal long shot that younger eaglets are often peck by the older until they no longer compete for food and die.
So millions of viewers watch in rapt attention as the parents warmed the young under their bodies, fed them on a diet of crows, coots and rabbits, and kept them from falling out of the nest.
Such a drama is not wasted on my wife our Border Collie bitches and our Cheviot ewes give birth and tend their offspring. Sheep are prey animals and so the young are up, walking and suckling within minutes, the better to keep them out of the mouths of wolves and lions in the wild. We hold our breath and tense our muscles as if to help the mothers, and so we are all too ready to jump to their aid if something goes wrong. But almost always they manage to push them out, lick them clean and nuzzle them closer to their teats, even while simultaneously giving birth to a twin or even a triplet.
Bitches can be even more amazing as they manage to chew off the navels and start to nurse five or even ten puppies while others are on their way.
It is amazing to see the lambs up and nursing in such short order, while puppies are blind and deaf at birth and have to crawl and follow their noses only to their meals. Then you consider that we human beings are totally dependent on our mothers for months and months.
I myself laugh at the distinction that we are forced to make in the abortion debate when considering the viability of a human life. We grant that a fetus becomes a child when it can be viable outside the mother’s womb. But are we ever completely independent or viable? Are we not, all of us, always a combination of self and others? And are we therefore not always in need of our mothers?
When my own mother lay dying of respiratory failure in a hospital in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, my brother and I were 48 and 42 years old. As we attended to her needs I knew something else was at work. I was struck by the way that we called out to her not as “mother,” but as “mom.” It was as if we were two years old again, with our heads tucked under the protective wings of her arms, drawing strength and life from her spirit.
My wife and I hold our breath when we watch the birthing of ewes and dogs, and millions of us watch the eagles of Decorah so intently, because we know, deep down inside, that we are never viable if we are cut off from our mothers.