It was bitterly cold today, yet under a rare blue winter sky and bright sun that the weatherpeople had not predicted. I stood on top of Kinzua Dam in Northwestern Pennsylvania and, as anyone who’s ever seen or played Goldeneye knows, being on top of a dam is inherently cool in itself even if you don’t bungee off it.
I took the day off from work to attend “Caching with Eagles,” a geocaching event held to coincide with the birdwatching season at the dam. Since the water doesn’t entirely freeze over at the location during winter, bald eagles tend to congregate there for easier fishing. People fill the area with binoculars and cameras, but the eagles don’t seem to mind. They truly are majestic birds, even when they’re young and haven’t developed their white, “bald” plumage. Watching them soar above you with wide and perfect wingspans liberates something within you.
The holiday came at a perfect time, too, since not 24 hours before I was crammed in a newsvan with a TV reporter, cameraman, radio journalist and a freelancer, trying to stay warm while police and the district attorney talked with a man accused of murdering an elderly woman.
There was no shred of rivalry between any of us in there. We were all cold from standing outside waiting and, really, no one wants to cover a murder. Especially not one like this. You pass the time by talking shop and making jokes about other matters, but you know that eventually you’ll have to create a story about how a 37-year-old man likely stabbed and beat a woman in her 80s to death; how her body was found in her apartment building earlier that day but she could’ve been lying there for up to two; how no one’s going to know why this happened until police complete their investigation, but you can fear the worst based on how other tenants said he treated women.
We interviewed the DA when he was ready, then went up a couple floors to the courtroom to wait for the arraignment. He didn’t know we would all be there, lenses pointed squarely at him as police brought him off the elevator.
“Aw, geez,” he said, and tried to bring his shackled hands up to cover himself. It was the second time in my life I’ve had the opportunity to take close-up photos of an accused murderer. I guess that means I owe myself another eagle-watching trip.
My thoughts would occasionally drift back to that old woman while on the dam. She used to be a nurse, I found out last night through the news archives, and she had already faced tragedy years ago when her 15-year-old daughter was hit by a truck. She didn’t deserve to die the way she did. I wonder if she’s now somewhere filled with the majesty hinted at by eagles in flight; the majesty we as humans will never come close to, no matter how hard we try.