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There's a bald eagle lurking on the edge of my grove. I saw him on my daily quarter mile trudge back from the mailbox. 

He's perched on the top of one of the tallest trees, a few feet from a couple of squirrel nests. That seems to me like the makings of an uneasy neighborhood. 

I thought about going to the house to get a camera but decided against it. Times change. A few years ago, I would have run to get the camera, bursting breathlessly through the door to tell my wife what I'd seen. 

I bet I was forty years old before I saw an eagle in our neighborhood; now they're commonplace. A couple hundred years ago, about a million bald eagles graced the skies in what is now the United States. By the time I was born there were only about 1,000. After DDT was banned and pollution controls cut the amount of mercury in the air and water, they rebounded and now we see them all the time. It’s the same thing with swans. Not that long ago, if swans made an appearance in Big Stone County, pausing on their voyage from the Yukon to Chesapeake Bay, it would be front page news. Now there are many nesting pairs every summer. 

 When I hear people yearning for the good old days, that’s the kind of thing I think about. I'm all about nostalgia, but I’m also in favor of not poisoning eagles and swans.   

Moving on from pollution, it wasn't that long ago we couldn't get a decent burrito, you had to go to Thailand for Thai food, and there was no homemade ramen within 1,000 miles. Maybe food isn’t the most important thing in your life, but it makes the top ten list in mine. 

Racism, sexism, and a variety of other isms were open and pervasive, and bullying and abuse in schools was not only tolerated, sometimes it was encouraged. We don't live in a perfect society now, but at least most people feel like they need to hide their prejudices, and I call that a win.   

Moving on. Before vaccines about 16,000 people a year in the United States got polio, (including my sister) and 500,000 contracted measles. In 2020, those numbers were zero for polio and thirteen for measles. The survival rate for childhood leukemia is around 90%, which is also the five-year survival rate for women who are treated for breast cancer. 

One of the most well-used items in our house was the Encyclopedia Britannica, pulled out to settle many suppertime arguments. I researched what a set cost in the 60’s, and it took over two months of my mom’s teacher’s salary to put them in our bookcase. Now every bit of information in the world is available for free, just by tapping your fingers on your phone a few times. Of course, the Encyclopedia Britannica used actual facts, which can be a little harder to come by on the World Wide Web.   

We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds, not even close. But we do live in a world where eagles fly freely, people don’t get polio, and you can breathe the air. Most of what’s wrong around us is within our power to fix, and that doesn’t mean dialing the clock back fifty years. 

I guess a lurking eagle can raise a variety of thoughts on a winter day. 

Copyright 2024 Brent Olson 

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