Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: The Spirit of the Eagle

A few weeks ago I was standing on the banks of the Overpeck being interviewed by a TV reporter concerning the future of our local celebrity nesting pair of Bald Eagles, Alice & Al. After fielding a myriad of questions concerning their history, biology and ecology of this magnificent twosome the reporter turned to me and asked, “So what do these Eagles mean to you?”

I have to admit I was caught by surprise and was suddenly at a loss for words. After getting more than a little choked up I managed to gather myself to give a quick emotional answer, “They mean everything, everything.”

Almost as much as my years of joy of having the privilege and honor of observing and protecting these magnificent birds is the pleasure I have meeting all the wonderful people that are touched by the sight of a Bald Eagle. Sometimes it’s a loud gasp, a quite sigh or an outburst of tears that the mere spectacle of the Eagle brings out in not only first time onlookers but the seasoned naturalist as well.

There is something that stirs the soul, something old and ancient that manages to bring forth such a vast array of emotions in the human heart. It is with that thought in mind that I asked some of my friends what Eagles mean to them personally.

AnnMarie Carrier , who is new to the world of birding, feels something special while watching Bald Eagles.  “I just think they are magnificent,” AnnMarie told me “Gentle and strong! I want to learn everything I can about them,” Me too, Annmarie

Sue Kaufmann wrote to tell me a personal story. “A year or two ago, my boyfriend Ivan Kossak and I were birding in Sandy Hook when his car conked out. We called AAA for a tow back up to Morris County, and the driver took the Turnpike to get there.

As he always does, Ivan was extolling the virtues of birding, to a driver who admittedly didn’t spend much time in nature. Personally, I think the guy was just being polite. As the truck made its way down the Exit 16W ramp from Turnpike north, we saw two adult eagles perched in a tree not far from the ramp.

They had to be Al and Alice, and we pointed them out to the driver. The look on his face was transcendent. He had never seen Bald Eagles in the wild, and he said he’d never expected to see them in the Meadowlands. All of a sudden, what  Ivan had been telling him was made real. They made the entire point for us – there is amazing natural life in the Meadowlands, if only you look. Al and Alice prove that the ecosystem is really coming back, and that if we give it enough space, nature will thrive.”

For many people like Jim O’Leary, the first time seeing an Eagle will never be forgotten. “I will never forget the first time I saw an immature Bald Eagle in a tree across the Hackensack River at Andreas Park. I was stunned at how big it was compared to a hawk. Now I see them regularly, sometimes as many as five or six in a day, and I’m always in awe. To know that a nesting pair has now become regular residents along the banks of the Hackensack River is such a beautiful story!”

For a few of us the Eagle means much more.

“When I see the Eagle many thoughts fill my spirit ….. For me this winged one allows me to be close to our creator, the visions of soaring above all really gives me peace in a world that can be filled with so much destruction and hate. I often find myself taking flight with my brother the Eagle, soaring through the clouds and making a perch on the tallest of trees looking out over creation.

This amazing winged one reminds me of who we as humans are supposed to be. We should become a part of our nature, respecting it and all that comes from it, taking only what we need to preserve the balance in the world as we know it….. Respect, pride, honor and humility are all things that I get from this magnificent creation, all values that for me allows me to be who I was also created to be..


Waapalaniwii Manutoow

(Eagle Spirit)

Chief Vincent Mann

Turtle Clan Chief

Ramapough Lunaape Nation

For the many from all walks of life that fought and struggled years ago the vision of the Eagle means everything. For the Native American the Eagle means a return to their culture, faith and heritage, it means everything.  For the senior citizen that only dreamed of seeing Eagles in our skies and for the child that will grow up enjoying watching Eagles overhead, it means everything.

To envision the future of the environment and to learn from the past, the return of the Eagle means everything. When we realize that when good people join together to do what is right for the environment,  the return of the Eagle will once again mean everything to all of us.

4 thoughts on “Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: The Spirit of the Eagle

  1. Anne Fleisher

    Don…you really don’t know me, but I read all of your posts…this one about Eagles was
    very touching and shows what a humble and caring man that you are. The world needs
    more people like you to protect our earth….thank you


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