I’ve been doing seven-mile runs about five days a week. I need the runs: not only do they keep me lean, they calm the devils and the devils have been pestering me. Most of the time I go up the hill at Turtle Rock. The final elevation gain is about five hundred feet and steep, enough to leave you gasping if you push. I usually do two loops on the hill then head back to the domain of traffic lights and SUVs.
One gift of Turtle Rock is the views – Orange County spread out from the Santa Ana Mountains to the blue decline of horizon, all the corporate towers curving roads and golden hills, Long Beach a distant urban mass. The other gift is a touch of wilderness, chaparral plants among the invasives, the shifting tones of gray and brown and dun. The roadrunners, doves, rabbits, phoebes, the rustling in thick brush. I’ve seen snakes and I’ve seen vultures. It’s only a touch, a taste of the wild. The houses lap against the hill, human stain, until the last two hundred feet.
The hill looms as you run up the winding roads, turn a corner and there it is. Yesterday as I came up to the last turn a large bird swooped into the canopy next to me and perched. A few seconds later, another bird lit on same branch, and the first bird hopped to the next tree with a squawk. I stopped to look at the bully. It was a raptor with the signature sharp curving beak. The bird was dark brown, with lighter brown feathers around the neck. Under its wings lay a checkerboard pattern of black and white feathers. These birds were large, maybe two-and-a-half feet long, with wings easily twice that or more. They were the first golden eagles I’d ever seen and I was close enough that I could see them breathing.
In the summer on a run I’d noticed a peregrine falcon perched on a power line. The falcon had arrested me in the same way, close to the life of large animal that wasn’t tame or in a cage, that had an aura of power.
The eagles hopped around in the branches and then swooped off. I saw them again as I crested Turtle Rock, fifty feet overhead, flying with steady powerful strokes. Chasing the eagles were eight or ten crows as frantic as clowns.