Note: I would love feedback for the flow of this story. Overall plot/structure. Did it keep you interested in reading more or did it bore you? Were there parts you could have done without? Were the parts that had more action believable? Could you imagine the setting/characters well? Did you care about the characters? Thank you in advance!
Miranda walked out onto the beach from the biological station with a warm cup of sweet tea and a piece of coffee cake. A cold summer breeze blew in straight through her warmest sweater sending goosebumps up her pale arms. She wished bitterly that just one morning Lake Michigan wouldn’t suck every part of summer away. She mentally corrected herself: The Lake as they called it on the island. She sat down with a thump among the pretty orange wildflowers growing up from the sand and pulled her huge sweater over her knees down to her scratchy wool socks and worn timberland work boots. Sipping her strong lemon concoction, she thought of her fiancé Blake. Back home, if he didn’t have to work today, they would be sitting under the shade in the backyard enduring the sweltering heat. He would be fidgeting with the extra chain on the wooden porch swing he’d built while providing her with a nice stream of consciousness—a background for her thoughts. She wondered if he still kept all his candy and sweet baked goods hidden around the house for moments when his blood sugar got wacky or if he left them out now because she wasn’t there to complain about him wrecking her wedding diet. The absence of his constant talking left a ringing in her ears she couldn’t quite shake, and without him there at night, she always felt cold.
The air inside the one room cabin was always chilled in the morning when she woke up as well. The other girls seemed to spring out of bed in shorts no less to do their morning jogs or read research articles as type A personalities do. Miranda just snuggled deeper into her cocoon of heavy quilts. She always wanted to put off slipping into cold rubber waders to collect the morning samples from shore as long as possible. She wished they would take their samples in the afternoon, but it wouldn’t make a difference. The lake never warmed up anyway.
Now they were still sorting, recording, and preserving their samples under microscopes with lab coats and gloves while the day stretched before her like the lonely beach. She knew she shouldn’t have chosen to study snails for her project. They took days and days to change as they crawled around in their purple kiddie pool each marked with a little pattern of bright nail polish. Aside from measuring them daily all she had to do was wait. It was a stark contrast from her last job chasing invasive wild boars through the Mississippi forest.
“Hey, you like birds right?” Dave asked walking up to her. Like always, he had a huge grin on his ruddy face—ready for anything.
“Yeah, do you have a class going on another bird-watching trip?” she asked.
“Uhh, something like that. A guy just called in for an eagle with a broken wing on Garden Island. Must have been paying his respects. We need to go get him so he can take The Emerald Isle back to the mainland and a vet. Hopefully we can get it done in time for the afternoon trip. Seems right up your alley.”
“Of course, I’m down.” She replied. Even if she was occupied with research, she would drop anything for a chance to see an eagle up close.
“I thought you’d want to try your wrangling skills; I’ve seen you catching the water snakes.”
They hopped into the university van and were on their way before Miranda could even scarf down her cake. A trail of dusty dirt road floated into the air behind them as they sped around twists and turns. As soon as they were at the boathouse, they started to pack the glorified speedboat they used for deep water samples.
“Okay we have: life jackets, quilts, oars, dog cage, anchors, rope, firefighter uniforms, waders…. Anything else?” Miranda asked.
“I think we’re set!”
Miranda, Dave, and Beaver island’s police officer, James, hopped into the boat. As they sped off towards Garden Island, Miranda sat and the front of the boat. She loved trips out into The Lake when the sun was shining. The water sprayed against her face and the wind whipped her long curly hair around in swirls. It made her eyes water terribly, but she couldn’t take them off the bright blue expanse before her. There were moments when no land could be seen before them. The Mackinac bridge somehow slid into the horizon and the shore along with it. She wished Blake could be here with her to experience it all. Then he would realize why she had to get out of Mississippi if just for the summer.
She was snapped out of her thoughts by Dave turning the boat to the left towards the southern edge of Garden island. Unlike Beaver island with its long rolling beaches and dunes, Garden island had forest that grew right up to the edge of it. The trees stretched out toward the sunlight over the banks, and their roots tumbled into the water clinging to the clay and sand. The air was still but buzzing with mosquitos in the late June morning. Humid heat emanated from the thistles and nettles that carpeted the ground. When they slowly drifted in against the shore, Miranda hopped up, grabbed the anchor and expertly swung it around a large birch that was growing almost horizontally to feel the sun. She secured it while James did the same at the rear end of the boat.
“Alright time to suit up.” Dave shouted tossing the fire jacket and waders towards Miranda with a heave. She clutched for them in the air staggering back bit with their impact as the thick rubber boots swung around and hit her in the ass. She balanced awkwardly on one leg amongst the rope and nets in the bottom of the boat while she pulled waders on. Even before she had the thick neon jacket on, sweat had started to soak into her stuffy socks. The waders suctioned to any bit of exposed skin available as she stumbled onto the shore. At least there would be no possibility of any poison ivy even coming close to her skin.
James followed her with a thud. He now looked like an enthusiastic fishermen with his eyes barely visible between his large camo boonie hat and course red beard. He pulled a mosquito net down around his neck, and handed Miranda a large patchwork quilt to match his own. She tried to arrange it in a flingable way that wouldn’t make her fall face first into the slightly spongy ground.
“Alright so the plan is that we don’t have a plan.” Dave explained. “We’re just going to try and surround her then throw these quilts at her. She shouldn’t try to fly away. The guy said she was just hopping around on the ground. But if she does, we’ll rethink things then. Got it?” Miranda nodded. James lead the way towards the first sighting with long strides. Miranda forgot completely about the bird as she focused on simply keeping up. The forest was swampy in many places and as her feet sunk into muck air bubbled up from below. She scrunched her nose at the strong sulfur smell of decomposition. With every step her feet slid forward and back in the large boots rubbing newly formed blisters on her heels. Her socks had slid off down to just the edge of her toes within minutes in the huge waders. The mosquitos fiercely attacked her wrists and somehow found their way to her neck as well. Gnats crawled into her hair that now hung limply and clung to her scalp from the humidity and her sweat.
The horseflies were somehow biting through the ball cap Dave had borrowed her. She tried to swat at one, accidently tripped on a corner of the quilt dragging in mud, and almost toppled over. As she was wildly grappling to regain her balance, she saw the bird. She could only see patches of it through thick prickly ash and sumac that had grown up rapidly in a patch of sunlight amongst the gloom. It was perched low to the ground.
“Dave! James!” she tried to whisper and shout at once.
They turned around, and she pointed out the bird. Dave motioned for them to circle it. Miranda went to the right leaving the pools of stagnant water behind her. On this side, she couldn’t even see the bird because of all the undergrowth, but she crouched down to avoid most of the branches and held her hands in front of her face to avoid the rest. She pushed through with tangled plants ripping around her ankles and knees with every step. Every few steps she tugged her blanket away from the thorns on every branch. Here the sunlight beat through the bushes hot against her plastic attire. Her eyes stung from sweat dripping off her face. Then she came to the edge of the brush.
The eagle cocked its head to the side staring right at her with its bright yellow eye. It turned the other way as if to observe her from every angle. Its talons dug into the rotting wood of a large ragged stump at the center of a small clearing amongst the prickly ash. Maybe the tree that had shattered the thick leaf cover above. The bird swiveled its upper body to stare at Dave who was across from her stepping in slow motion to avoid breaking branches. She glanced around. James’ task was impossible. With his hulking frame there was no way he could get through the brush without scaring everything in the forest away.
As Dave drew closer the bird raised one wing haughtily and let out a warning squawk. Miranda watched as Dave slowly stepped over the fallen tree. He released a taught branch from his hand and it swung back shaking the bushes. The eagle first jumped up then jumped again attempting to spread both wings. Miranda didn’t think; she burst through the last layer of branches and spread her arms wide as they could go with a bunch of quilt in each hand. She lept forward and tossed the quilt as far as she could trying to get it to spread out over the bird. It hit the eagle with wings spread fully, and one of them the bird instantly collapsed and drew in under the weight. Miranda quickly gathered the edges up around it. Dave slowly put pressure on the other wing until it folded that one as well. The bird didn’t struggle under the darkness of the blanket. They folded it in in holding gently around the bird’s body.
James carried the bird back, cradling it between his large forearms. Miranda carried her large firefighters’ jacket in her arms. It was to save her from scratches, but she was in awe with how docile the eagle was. Maybe it knew they weren’t trying to harm it. She couldn’t be sure. At the boat, they placed the bird into the large dog cage and slowly unfolded the blanket with the door mostly shut. Miranda reached one hand in just to touch its silky, smooth feathers just once before it was fully free and scrambled upright. It sat silently for a moment content to be cool after the stuffy blanket, then began straightening all of its ruffled feathers. The cool breeze off the lake felt like heaven to Miranda as she stripped down to one layer of clothing. It soothed the red bug bites that were now scattered over all her exposed skin and lifted her heavy hair away from her neck.
As they boated back to Beaver Island to catch the last ferry of the afternoon, Miranda thought of Blake and how excited she was to tell him about the day. It wasn’t until a morning a few weeks later however, as she walked along the beach talking to him on her cell phone about finally feeling at home that she remembered. A lone eagle flew in from the east seemingly straight from the sunrise above Charlevoix. She wondered out loud if that was the eagle coming home. Blake just told her that eagle just belonged on the island almost as much as she did.