Before the kill, the eagle sat in the tree for a long time.
It had flown in low from the south over the bridge to South Hadley Falls and settled on a dead branch in a leafless tree on a rocky island in the middle of the river. Beyond the island the dam was dry, save for a torrent spilling over a small section near the Holyoke Gas & Electric plant. The old Texon factory slept at the opposite shore.
A gang of gulls flew in front of the eagle, white spots against the factory’s red brick. It was 5 p.m. and the eagle sat on the branch for almost a full half hour. I stood on the bridge and watched the bird watch the river.
I only looked away for a few seconds but that’s when the eagle made its move. I’d pulled the lens back for a wide shot of the river and the dam and the factory and the mountain and most of all the clouds, which had turned the color of a shark’s skin. A halo of white sky opened up over Mount Tom. It was getting cold.
When my eyes returned to the branch, the eagle was gone.
I picked it up a few seconds later: it was flying well below the height of a dam, looking down at a duck that was nearly raking its wingtips across the water.
The eagle dove.
With its first hit it knocked the duck sideways in the air. Then it made a pedaling motion with its feet, reaching for and finally clasping the duck in its talons. The eagle carried the duck over a tangle of boulders and tree trunks and splashed into the river for a moment as it hauled its prey onto a long, smooth rock.
Headlights flickered on passing cars, drivers unaware of the drama unfolding below. The windows of the Texon factory watched unblinking. Two men lit a campfire on the sandy shore just north of the bridge. One man sat on a log the river had polished bone-white. He looked out at the cold brown-green water.
Out below the dam, the eagle bowed its head and ate.