Arnost and the Eagle
Arnost and the Eagle

Arnost & the Eagle

by Priscilla Ireys of Paw Paw, WV

My goal is to shell the peas I picked yesterday, bag them, and store them in the freezer. Not exactly what I want to do, but I’ve raised a good crop this year, and I’ll be glad to have them come winter. But I can’t get my mind off the injured kid in the pasture. I need to check on him, and the morning air beckons. The peas will have to wait. I promise myself I’ll finish them when I get back.

As I walk to the pasture, I pass Arnost, one of my guardian dogs, dozing in the morning sun. He moans a bit in his sleep, a sound that always makes me smile. Behind him, the does graze while their kids mostly sleep. They all look fine.

But I still don’t see the kid I’m looking for, so I walk through the pasture gate and check one pile of napping baby goats after another. Behind me, a savage growl interrupts the quiet morning. The hairs on my arms stand up. I swing around. Arnost is fully awake and looking skyward. In one graceful movement he leaps up and runs hellbent past me into the field. His growl grows into a warning howl as he follows something in the sky.

I shade my eyes so I can see what has made Arnost so upset. Eagles circle above us. “NO!” I yell.

The eagles must have seen the baby goats sleeping in the grass all over the pasture. An easy breakfast was on their minds. I run from one pile of sleeping kids to the next, waking them and yelling as loud as I can while I wave my arms frantically to alert the does.

The herd now knows it’s in danger. The field becomes chaos. Other guardian dogs run in circles, barking and snarling at the sky. Does bleat for their babies; kids scream for their moms.

In a few moments, most of the herd bolt past me, rushing for the safety of the barn. The dogs keep jumping and snarling at the slowly circling eagles, but Arnost stays low — crouching, tracking, moving to keep them in his sight, waiting to see if they dare dive for a kid.

I still don’t see my injured baby and her mom, but from somewhere over the steep hill in the back pasture comes another bark, a deep and repeated one. I run toward the sound. As I reach the hilltop, I see Sophie, another guardian dog, at the bottom of the hill leaning over something that isn’t moving. As I get closer, I see it’s the injured kid.

The mother goat stands with Sophie and her kid. She snorts and glares at the eagles, stomping her front feet. She is there to defend her baby.

The eagles circle over Sophie. One of them dives right for her. She crouches over the kid, growling at the eagle as he descends closer to the ground. Sophie barks wildly and snaps up into the air at the eagle, but she never moves from her post over the baby goat, even as the eagle gets dangerously close. Then the eagle darts back into the sky to join its circling friend and rethink its plan of attack.

Arnost appears at the crest of the hill where the two eagles circle just above Sophie, the mother doe, and the injured baby. An eagle begins another dive.

“Run, Arnost! Run!” I yell. I wave my arms at the eagles and race down the hill screaming, “Get away!” My heart throbs as my feet fly down the hill.

Arnost is now in a dead run, his strong legs going as fast as they can take him. He has only one chance. With all his might, he hurls himself into the air, going for the eagle. The bird sees him, but it’s too late. Arnost grabs him midair and brings him down. The dog and eagle hit the ground with a thud.

I’m still running down the hill, stumbling as I go, trying to watch the scene and keep my balance. My boots slide, and then I tumble. Rock and dirt grind into my skin as my shirt tears and I roll head over heels down the steep bank. My face stings from the cuts; I realize I’m out of control and become frantic to stop rolling. I desperately reach out for a small tree and wrap my arms around it as hard as I can. My shoulder snaps with pain, but I finally stop rolling. As soon as I can, I sit up, spitting dirt out of my mouth and gently rubbing my eyes and face.

I hear the roars and screams of the two animals in battle somewhere close. My eyes then settle on Sophie, still over the kid, dancing a protective dance and barking wildly. She never moves far from the baby goat.

Arnost and the fighting machine of a bird are trying to kill each other. They’re in a blur of dust — screeching bird, snarling dog, and blood ribbons on the ground and in the air where the battle rages.

My attention is fixed on this terrifying scene in front of me.

The eagle finally frees itself from the dog’s grip and jumps backward. For a moment, it’s a standoff. Dog and eagle glare at each other until the huge bird suddenly propels itself straight up, jetting through the cloud of dust to the safety of the sky.

Feathers and blood cover the ground. Arnost continues to growl savagely. The two eagles circle a few more times, drift higher, and then disappear. They’ll find breakfast someplace else.

Sophie, still defending the hurt baby goat and her mother, senses the fight is over and relaxes. She moves off the baby, licks her to make sure she’s okay, then nudges her up and over to her mother.

Finding a big stick, I work to get on my feet. I hurt in so many places, I decide to think about the pain later. Standing up with the aid of the stick, I look around.

The injured kid is between her mother and Sophie, so I stagger over to check them out. All three animals are still shaking from the terror of the attack, but they are safe. I pat Sophie on the head and look around the pasture. No other goats. The herd is all in the barn with the other dogs.

I steady myself and think about hobbling home. But where is Arnost?

As if he knows what I’m thinking, he pushes his warm wet nose against my arm. He’s right behind me. “Arnost! Are you okay, boy?”

I lean on my stick, hug his strong neck, and dip my head into his thick, black fur. He smells of blood and dirt. Arnost’s legs are still trembling. As I hold him in my arms, I feel his heart racing. His mind is still on the threat.

I pick a few feathers from his fur and notice the blood on his face, neck, and front legs. I lean down and snatch a few more feathers from the ground.

I look at my war-weary Arnost. He looks back at me and sits, now able to relax.

“Man, we are a sight, Arnost!” I say as I check out my dirty, torn clothes. “Both of us covered in dirt, sweat, feathers, and blood. Just a sight.”

Then my legs begin to tremble, and my breath leaves me. I drop down beside Arnost. He and Sophie search the sky for eagles. But they are gone, having learned their lesson — at least for a while.

I rub the eagle feathers still in my hand as I ponder what could have happened — or what almost did. The guardian dogs did their job. This age-old method of protecting a herd works.

I pet Arnost, who now lies in the grass licking his wounds.

After resting a few more minutes, it’s time for me to hobble back to the house. My wounds need some licking too. And, yes, I must keep my promise to freeze those blasted peas.