Whitesburg KY

Eagle sent soaring in honor of miners

High in the Manti-La Sal Forest, a golden eagle soared into the winds on the afternoon of Aug. 30 bearing prayers for the victims of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster.

A golden eagle has 7,000 feathers, and Piute lore has it the big bird can deliver a prayer to the Great Spirit with each one.

And so, 70 friends and relatives of the six men missing since the Aug. 6 catastrophe – and the three men who died attempting to rescue them – met where The Great Western Trail climbs to 9,800 feet to pray in the eagle ceremony. They laid their hands on the beautiful bird and sent him skyward with their message of love.

“This is something that can be the beginning of a healing time for all of us,” said Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon. “This is a close time when we can feel close together while feeling sorrow in our hearts.”

The 6-month-old golden eagle was found near death and nursed back to health by Martin Tyner and his Cedar City-based Southwest Wildlife Foundation. Tyner offered the bird and the ceremony after he learned of the tragedy in coal country.

The Great Spirit gave the eagle the calling of gathering prayers and flying them into the heavens, according to American Indian lore relayed to Tyner by a member of the Piute tribe.

“If you say your prayers with an eagle feather, the eagle will carry your prayers to God,” he said. “The eagle is watching over us like a protector and guardian angel.”

One by one or in groups, friends and relatives prayed – sometimes silently, sometimes aloud, sometimes with tears – as they held the eagle on the mountaintop. Then, Wendy Black, the widow of fallen rescuer Dale Ray “Bird” Black, released the bird, and it spread its huge wings on an updraft and flew skyward. It soared down the ridge and back over the gathering to “oohs” and “aahs” and a cheer.

“Eagle, take our sorrow, loneliness and fear to the sky and lighten our hearts … and ease the heavy burden we carry,” read Maggie McMullen from the poem she had written for the occasion.

“Eagle, soar to the heavens, soar to the clouds, help us see the future and remember the past … Eagle, give us hope, peace and love. Eagle, stay in our dreams.”

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