Where Eagles Dare to Tread

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When a bald eagle, carrying a deer's head, fails to clear a powerline, causing a power outage and killing the eagle — what is the word for that?

I don't mean myth or allegory or fable. This eagle story is different from Icarus flying too close to the sun, so that his artificial wings melt, or Hemingway's Old Man, trying to get back to shore with a fish bigger than his boat.

This eagle story is not fictional. It actually happened, a couple of days ago, in Juneau, Alaska. An explosion was heard, 10,000 people's lights went out, a repair crew went to the site, and there lay a deer's head and a dead eagle.

The eagle had evidently picked up the head from a nearby landfill. The eagle, said a spokesman for Alaska Electric Light and Power, "got ahold of a little bit more than he could handle."

An omen. Yes. A portent. But an omen or portent of what, exactly?

Clearly the eagle is America (the eagle in that song John Ashcroft used to sing, "Let the Eagle Soar"), writing a check with its talons that its wings can't cash. And the power outage is, well, loss of power.

But what is the deer's head, exactly?

Before we decipher what it represents to us, let us ask what it represented to the eagle. Was the eagle going to eat that deer head ... or was he going to hang it on the wall of his eyrie?

"This would have been a major score," said the AEL&P spokesman. "That eagle would have been the king eagle of the Lemon Creek group."

The eagle wasn't flying too high, for horizon-expansion's sake, like Icarus. The eagle wasn't trying to preserve a hard-earned product of his labor, like Hemingway's fisherman. The eagle had found a trophy.

A trophy that was too big for him. And when you get right down to it, a trophy that was trash. Presumably, some human hunter had thrown it away. Even if the eagle had managed to get home with it, the other eagles would have busted his chops: "Oh, a deer scrap. How long did you have to chase that deer, before you threw him down and ripped his head off?" Oversize, cheesy trophy ...

The secret word must be hypertrophy, Which means exaggerated, abnormal, generally unhealthy development or growth, as of an organ or an enterprise. Steroids ... obesity ... excessive CEO compensation ... a preemptive invasion that we can't get away with?

If the eagle was sent to warn us against any of those, it was too late. What else in America is excessive and disreputable?

Well, American Idol. You know, when Simon Cowell told that unfortunate-looking contestant that he looked like a bush baby, causing a shudder to go through any decent human being who may have been watching? When a show reaches that point, there's a term for it: jumping the snark.

So far, though, American Idol is over only in principle. Can we cancel it before it starts looking like Barry Bonds's head or the Republican Party in 2004?