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Eagle Eyes

“And class don’t forget, tomorrow we scratch!” Miss Martin struggled to be heard over the deafening combination of dismissal bell and scuffling feet.

Earlier that week, each of us in my seventh-grade art class had prepared scratchboards by brushing layers of India ink onto 8.5 x 11 inch sections of art board. Once dried, our assignment would be to create something for the school art contest. The technique, a new one for us, involved scratching away dried ink to reveal the white board beneath until the desired image was formed. The individual subject matter would be up to us, but the overall theme was “nature”. Miss Martin would choose just one piece from our class to be entered in the contest.

The next day, Miss Martin handed each of us a scratchboard and a small metal tool to be used for removing the ink. Over the course of the next few classes we worked diligently on our middle school masterpieces. I decided to scratch a bald eagle into the dried layer of black on my board.

To my left, Sylvia etched away at several clouds. To my right, Todd scraped the outline of a tree. I leaned forward to look over Rob’s shoulder and saw the huge head of a snake taking shape.

I sat back to begin my eagle.

Still a bird lover today, my interest began long before that art class. I found myself lost in the assignment, enjoying the process, and proud of tiny details I put into the work. Sharp talons, well-shaped wings, perfect facial features. I was downright proud of myself. By the time the final class session began I had produced what I considered the perfect bald eagle. His stature regal, his form sublime, and his face magnificent.

“Buddy.” Rob said as he looked back over his shoulder at my artwork. “You got eyelashes on him.”

“Yeah” I responded. His remark seemed silly.

He looked down at my board again, then back at me. “I’m putting some on my snake?” He said as if asking permission.

“You can put curlers in his hair if you want. It’s your snake after all.” I responded.

Rob began feverishly scratching out what promised to be very impressive snake eyelashes.

Miss Martin took a lap around the classroom to give each of us a few mid-work critiques. She stopped at my desk and I held my already completed art board in the air, awaiting her praise. She touched her fingers to her chin as she studied my effort.

“Your eagle has eyelashes?” She asked in a tone that clearly indicated disapproval.

Rob began feverishly scratching over what had promised to be very impressive snake eyelashes.

Was she expecting an answer? Of course it did. All birds have eyelashes. I kept waiting for praise.

“Have you ever seen a bird up close?” She continued her inane questioning.

Had I ever seen a bird up close? Irritated she hadn’t instantly pegged me as the next John James Audubon at the mere sight of my inky eagle, I thought about what to say. I felt highly offended. I mean really. Had I ever seen a bird up close?

Before school that morning I fed my parakeets. I also had two zebra finches in my room. There were always chickens around home. Ours was the house where people dropped off orphaned nestlings to be cared for and we currently had a baby robin in the house. I owned a little incubator and had recently hatched quail and they lived in a pen out back. I had even raised baby turkeys because I’d heard they could be a challenge. They were not. I knew my birds.

“Well?” Miss Martin asked again. “Have you ever seen a bird up close?”

Incensed, indignant, and full of teenage hormones I looked her in the face and said all I knew to say. I even stood to say it.

“Lady, just how stupid do you think I am?”

I sure was hungry that night, having to go to bed with no dinner.

Class the next day lasted an eternity. My palms sweated as Miss Martin casually lectured on pottery wheels. She seemed to have forgotten yesterday’s unfortunate incident. I’d been given strict instructions from home that I was to apologize, so maybe she hadn’t brought it up, but I would have to. As the dismissal bell rang, Miss Martin motioned me to her desk. She shut the door as the last student left.

“Oh no. Here we go.” I said under my breath.

She stared at me for a few seconds.

“I want to apologize.” Miss Martin began. “I looked up a few things and many birds do, in fact, have small modified feathers around their eyes.”

“Yep. Eyelashes.” I thought as I bit my adolescent tongue.

“Now.” She continued. “Do you have anything you would like to say to me?”

Oh boy, did I. She didn’t seem too intelligent. How dare she doubt the knowledge of a budding ornithologist?  How dare she criticize the artwork of the next Audubon? I could feel the irritation building as I thought of just what I really wanted to tell her.

But we were having lasagna for dinner and I didn’t want to miss it.

“Sorry about yesterday.” I said instead.

She smiled.

“It is a beautiful eagle.” She stated as she straightened the jar of paintbrushes on her desk. “It will be in the school art contest.”

She suddenly seemed very intelligent. With all forgiven on both sides, we parted ways and I dutifully reported to my parents that I had apologized. They already knew. She’d called them.

Several weeks later, in the middle of my sculpting a frog, she summoned me to her desk. This time in front of everyone.

“Oh no. Here we go again.”  I said under my breath.

“I want to talk to you about your eagle.” She walked towards me.

“What?” I thought sarcastically. “His toenails were crooked?”

There, right in front of the entire class, she handed me a little blue ribbon and grabbed me by the shoulders.

“You won the contest!”

I kept my winning eagle artwork for many years. Much of the India ink was lost over time, a bit scraped off here, a bit peeled off there, but I loved it just the same. It surfaced now and then as I went through closets or boxes and I’d often hold it and stare in admiration. One day I stared a little longer than usual and really studied the prize winner.

It wasn’t very good.

The poor bird’s body was extremely portly and his feet were different sizes. I wasn’t quite sure whether he had two wings or three and his tail was far too short. Much of the ragged eagle was way out of proportion, but one thing was clear…

His eyelashes were fabulous!

Stuart M. Perkins

 

 

 

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Triggers

We remain stunned by the unbelievably brutal attack on innocent high school students in Parkland, Florida. Who knows why the individual, obviously disturbed, felt compelled to do such a violent thing thereby ending seventeen lives and damaging so many more. Hindsight cannot help too much now.

The trigger has been pulled and there is no going back.

In the wake of the horror, debate rekindled over gun control and the meaning of twenty-seven little words. They have been dissected countless times but the conclusion has remained largely the same. Gun advocates cling to that decision because parts of the Second Amendment provide quite a sturdy position from which to take a stand.

But so do parts of the First. Enter the students.

Regardless of one’s political leanings, the organization and determination of the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School must be admired. Their collective response in speaking out was not a left-wing or right-wing reaction; it was a human reaction. And parts of the First Amendment provide quite a sturdy position from which to take a stand.

As clearly (or not, depending on interpretation) as the Second Amendment allows some to declare their right to bear arms, the First Amendment allows others the right to declare they should not. It presents a poignant battle during which each side feels offended by the other’s perceived inability to understand the point. Gun control is a gargantuan dispute.

I have no answers. Never having purchased a gun I have rarely given ownership or control a second thought. The right of anyone to own a gun was a given. But when gruesome gun-related events repeatedly occur they give one ample reason to reconsider based on common sense. It is a natural response. The same response Parkland students had after surviving the attack by a crazed individual whose weapon of choice was a gun. They had seen the same play out too many times, felt fed up, and are now letting the world know.

These kids understand the power of free speech. And they will use it.

These kids also understand the power of the vote. And they will use it.

Outraged by another tragedy where “thoughts and prayers” were substituted for realization and action, a handful of students spoke out. Inspired by their force, thousands more are swelling the protest. Lawmakers have largely avoided the gun control controversy, dodging and side-stepping their way around any resolution. This approach has worked for decades and may have continued as the preferred pattern, but the Parkland outcry grows stronger all the time.

Who knows the intention of the disturbed young man when he attacked students at the high school. What was he trying to prove? One thing he did prove, unwittingly, was the ability of a dynamic group of expressive young voters-to-be to consolidate their power. “Thoughts and prayers” go out to lawmakers now… they do not know what they are in for. Perhaps they hoped to continue the stalling? Pushed into action by the witnessing of death, children are forced to step up where adults never did. Something will happen now.

The trigger has been pulled and there is no going back.

Stuart M. Perkins

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