Woster: Eagles delight on a cold day over the Missouri River

A regular column from Terry Woster

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New Year’s Day dawned cold here by the Missouri River, and our furnace took forever to chase the chill from the living room.

From the west window of my upstairs office, I saw that the river had frozen solid. It had been flirting with freezing over for several days. Whenever a skin of ice developed, though, the wind rose and swept the water clear again. I’d been wondering when things would get cold enough for the first, hardiest souls to haul shacks out onto the ice. It happened Sunday, far over at the edge of a cove across the channel. The shack is gone this morning. Maybe the hardy soul succumbed to the requirements of a day job.

During the time before this cold snap, a handful of bald eagles had been spending several hours each day in the tree on the river bank near the end of our driveway. I can’t explain the fascination I have for those creatures, but whenever they’re around, I get less work done. I can’t pass a window without checking to see which eagle are roosting and which have flown away. A particularly large eagle generally sits in one of the topmost branches of the tree. I’ve come to believe that it’s the same bird, that it owns that spot and that the other eagles recognize the ownership and perch on lower branches in the cottonwood. I could be wrong, but I like the idea.

With the colder temperature and the lack of any open water on this stretch of river, the eagles have been absent for a few days now. Coincidence? I don’t know enough about their habits to say. I’m hoping they return now and then, but once the river freezes solid, it takes a long while for it to open up again.

With or without the eagles, the scene out my window was delightful. A light fall of snow that arrived sometime during the weekend had been blown into a series of drifts over the ice. From my window, it looked for all the world like a bunch of oversized pillows strewn across the surface of the Missouri. When the sun broke through now and then, the entire landscape glistened as if crystals of sugar had been scattered around.


Late in the evening on New Year’s Day, I used my phone to take a couple of pictures of the setting sun, the watermelon-colored horizon and the shadows the slanting light created around the snow mounds. The images the phone’s camera captured were disappointingly bland compared to what I could see through the lens. That’s often the case, but I keep trying to nab the perfect sunset picture.

I’m no photographer, although for the first year of my first real, full-time newspaper job I played one in Sioux Falls. I managed to learn a few things about making pictures that could be published in the paper, but I never had the sensitivity of a photographer. Over the years, I worked with a whole bunch of men and women who did have that special feel. They look at the same scene the rest of us do, but they see a whole different image, and they capture it with their cameras.

My little brother, Kevin, has that sensitivity. Once when I was interviewed about the two of us making our living in news, I remarked that I had the soul of a biographer while he had the soul of a poet. We look at the same things, and while I’m getting the hard, cold facts and details right, he’s experiencing emotions and finding words to express what he feels.

He has a good life going at the edge of the Black Hills these days, but he grew up near the Missouri, and he’ll go to his grave missing it. Now and then, when I accidentally manage to make a photo that comes close to being what I’d like it to be, I send him an image or two. Just seeing the sun setting across the water or the snow-covered bluffs lifts his spirit. And that lifts my spirit, almost as much as gazing out my window on the scene itself.

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