If Sue Milligan can be compared to a force of nature, it’s the aurora borealis. She’s colorful, surprising and she has a special kind of magic. She’s lived most of her life right where she lives now: off the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. She has been a commercial fisher, and she and her partner now make their living operating a water taxi in the area.
I drove my 16’ zodiac boat to her island one day for lunch. As I was leaving, she told me she’d caught a small rock cod that morning so she could show me how she sometimes gives fish to the eagle which nests nearby.
Standing on the dock, she whistled and called for the eagle, waving the fish in the air with her gloved hand. But he didn’t come out from wherever he was. She then held the cod carefully in both hands, raising it to her face. To my amazement, she pinched the head of the fish and put her lips on its mouth. And blew.
“There, its got air in it now. So it’ll float.” She handed me a glove, and then the fish. “You take it and watch for the eagles along the way home. Give it to them when you see them.”
Sue Milligan (it’s never right to call her “Sue”; she’s Sue Milligan) had devised an adventure for me.
I travelled along the coast slowly, scouring the tops of trees like an explorer searching for land. I’d never looked at the shore-line so intently, the steering wheel in my left hand and the fish in my right. Alas, no eagle.
When I got to my dock, there was no sign of the eagle that sometimes sits on a tall tree at Talking Bay near my cottage. I put the fish in a pail in the shed, thinking that the bear who’d come down the road earlier might be equally interested in the fish. Disappointment when on an adventure set by Sue Milligan is big. As big and unmitigated as when I was a child.
Two hours later, as I was eating dinner in the cottage, out of the corner of my eye I saw a large bird fly by. It was the eagle; it landed on one of the two small trees on a rock outcropping about 100’ from shore.
Mainly I ran: down the path to the shed, grabbed the pail, down to the shoreline. I grasped the fish and looked at its dead, lipless, spiny fish mouth. Okay, Sue Milligan, next time I’ll give it air, okay, but this time I’m not going to kiss the fish.
I could see the eagle almost camouflaged in the branches, except for its white-so-white head.
I tried to whistle for him, the way Sue Milligan did, but I was pretty ineffective. So I took a pitcher’s backswing and flung the fish carcass as far as I could out into the water. It landed with a splash. And as it did the eagle launched himself from the tree, made a half circle, swung down in front of me — a massive wing-span — and scooped up the fish with its talons, rising again and away. All this, 15’ from me.
I could see him on a rock across the water, eating the fish.
I wanted a boatload of fish to feed him. I was greedy to repeat this thing that had happened before my eyes and so close.
Thank you so much, genius Sue Milligan, for catching this fish just to give me the thrilling experience of participating in an eagle’s world. I’ll never forget it. How lucky I am.