Two artists, golden eagle and wind beneath its wings

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 6, 2011

A golden eagle rides on the invisible wind beneath its wings as it soars above the valley and surveys its world.
Art by Roland Rollinmud.
Click for a larger version.

I was taking my coffee break the other day at Cochrane’s Java Jamboree café when Barry Mach invited me to join him at his table.

He wanted to share with me a beautiful story of springtime hope, and it got me thinking anew about eagles and the Invisible Presence.

Barry’s an artist and folk philosopher whom I’ve come to respect over the years because of his spirit of personal poverty as he has lived as a guest among the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

In his typically vivid way, he told me how he was riding with a friend into Cochrane recently, eastbound along Highway 1A not far from the Grand Valley Road intersection, when he mentioned something about the eagles returning on their annual journey northward.

Just as he said “eagle” to his companion, he happened to glance across the valley and there, rising up out of the Bow River gorge, as if on cue, was a magnificent golden eagle. With outstretched wings, it effortlessly rode the rising air currents, higher and higher, circling and surveying the length and breadth of the land.

Rightly, eagles had the reputation for being messengers between heaven and earth, he said.

This got me thinking about a pen-and-ink of a golden eagle in flight by another artist, Roland Rollinmud, a Stoney Nakoda elder highly regarded for his sensitive depictions of nature.

With Barry’s story fresh in my mind, I phoned Roland and asked him about why he had such respect for the golden eagle.

He said his grandfather, John Hunter, was named after the eagle. They called him Ûbi-thka Îyodâge, “Sitting Eagle,” in the Stoney language.

“The bird conquers the highest heavens,” Roland said, “and by its aerial maneuvers it overtakes its prey below.”

From a spiritual perspective, the golden eagle figures prominently in the religious traditions of his people, he said.

“It comes as a messenger from God and calls us to hail the Creator. It gives us encouragement of how beautiful life is. It tells us, no matter what, not to lose the hope of how much God cares for us. It calls us to be thankful.”

Barry’s and Roland’s words called to my memory the image of the eagle in the writings of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah.

“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (the Bible, Isaiah 40:31).


In fact, here’s the image of two things, one visible, the other invisible, just as in Barry’s account of the eagle soaring effortlessly on the air currents rising from the Bow River gorge, and as in Roland’s pen-and-ink of a golden eagle in flight.

The visible is obvious: the magnificent bird. The invisible is less obvious: the wind beneath its wings.

So too for Isaiah, those who trust in God are buoyed up by the invisible, but very real, presence of God’s Spirit – God’s “Holy Wind.” And from the heights to which they soar on that Holy Wind, they embrace life in all its fullness – and are thankful.


© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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