Updated: Feb 7, 2020
When I was hired 20 years ago, I was issued a woolen army blanket to keep in my patrol vehicle. They didn't tell me what the blanket was supposed to be used for...only that it might come in handy someday. The blanket has only been put to use about three times in the past two decades. Today, I used it twice.
A semi, rumbling along I-80 this morning, collided with a bald eagle. The force of the impact our national bird made with the truck's windshield caused a hole and complete spiderwebbing. Enough damage to require a motor vehicle accident report. But the eagle somehow survived the blow. I pulled the blanket out from the back of my SUV where it lay buried in a box under my hip waders for the past ten years, and carried it to the ditch where the eagle was lying pressed against a barbed-wire fence. The bird panicked as I approached and made a clumsy effort to hobble away. After a few tries, I managed to toss the blanket onto the eagle and gather the injured raptor into my arms. Its vice-grip talons squeezed my hand as a state trooper and I loaded the bird into a crate. I covered the box with the army blanket, hoping the dark warmth would help to calm its jangling avian nerves while I transported my patient to a nearby raptor rehabilitation center.
Shortly after dropping the eagle off with the vet, I responded to a car accident near a state wildlife area. A young driver had passed out, careened off the road, and launched his car from a bridge. It landed on its roof on the bank of the Iowa River. Somehow, like the eagle minutes before, the driver survived the blow. I grabbed my blanket and made my way down the icy embankment to the crumpled car. My green blanket, flecked with blood speckled eagle feathers, warmed the driver's shoulders and covered his bare legs as the young man sat bleeding and shaking on the snow-covered riverbank, waiting for the ambulance crew to arrive. After getting the driver into the ambulance, I returned to my squad and tossed the blanket into the backseat where it will stay ready for deployment- heaped in a pile on top of the box where my hip waders are stored.