"Send him into the wind."
"Send him into the wind."
With those words Thursday afternoon, Dave Siddon released Beamer, a young golden eagle, atop Woodrat Mountain.
The silver-haired executive director of Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center in Grants Pass released his grip on the eagle's strong legs and offered one final push skyward.
Beamer's wingtips kissed the top of Siddon's head as the big bird took off toward sweet freedom. Siddon's smile was as bright as the sun as he followed his charge's flight path.
Watching Beamer soar, it was hard to imagine this powerful creature, born in the Applegate Valley in the spring of 2012, was found weak and starving along a road less than three months ago. It is still hard for me to accept that I almost missed this amazing moment because I was staring at my iPhone screen.
I'd begged for this assignment as soon as I saw the news release from Wildlife Images. I'm a sucker for a happy ending, as well as a second-generation birdnerd.
Golden eagles were the favorite of my sainted mother. A native daughter of Pasadena, she rejoiced when the "goldies" would fly down from the surrounding hillsides during breeding season, and circle our Linda Vista neighborhood.
"The goldens are out," Mom would shout, running to get her binoculars, calling for me to come watch their aerial displays.
When we moved to the Rogue Valley in 1999, Mom was thrilled to watch bald eagles flying past our cottage on the Rogue River. But her beloved goldies remained her favorite.
"This one's for you, Mom," I thought, as Mail Tribune photographer Jamie Lusch and I headed out to Ruch to meet with Siddon and crew.
We caravaned to the top of Woodrat shortly after noon, jolting over potholes and dodging tire-eating ruts. It seemed everyone assembled to witness the eagle's release had a camera of some sort. There was even a mini-helicopter ready to get a literal bird's eye view of the big moment.
I knew Jamie would have the MT covered. Dude takes amazing photos. But I wanted my own images to share with readers and friends. So I juggled between note pad, pen and iPhone. Totally forgetting I am not techy. Not by a long shot. Or a short video.
Suffice it to say, my heart skipped more than one beat when a notice appeared on my screen stating the memory card was filled to capacity. "You can fix that in settings," Siri offered.
Squinting in the sun, squalling internally, I tried dumping older images as quickly as possible. But Siddon was walking toward the edge of the mountain top, for Beamer was struggling to be set free.
Pressing back hard against Siddon's chest, the mighty bird writhed in gauntlet-covered arms, struggling to free his massive wings, clenching and unclenching his razor-sharp talons.
Somehow it didn't seem like the time to ask for a moment to dink around with one's cellphone.
I did, however, manage to clear enough space to film again — which I did — right until it shut down again, at the very moment of Beamer's release.
Nooooo!!!! I stared at the black screen. My stomach was dropping as the eagle soared upward. I was so freaked about my failure to record this for posterity that I almost missed the moment. Worse, I almost missed the point.
Fortunately, sanity returned on the wings of a memory.
"Look at that. Look. Isn't he beeeeeautiful." Mom's words echoed in my heart.
It was not too late to absorb this moment into my soul. Dropping my cell back into the pocket of my jeans, I decided to simply bear witness to Beamer's return to freedom. And be grateful.
Moments earlier Siddon had expressed his hope the young bird would not simply fly toward the nearest tree and perch. We held our collective breath as Beamer banked right from his launch point straight toward a stand of tall pines.
We exhaled into the hot summer breeze that riffled Beamer's flight feathers as he cruised on effortlessly through the hazy blue skies. One slow half-circle around the mountaintop was Beamer's parting gift to us all. Then he dipped down into the shadows of a verdant canyon — and disappeared into the wild.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org.