Monday, October 29, 2012

64. A Fascinating e-Book: An Eagle's Sky, My Life as a Birdman, by John Stokes

John Stokes launches his first hang glider in 1975.
In 1975 I was a college student in Memphis, Tennessee.  One of my best friends was John Stokes.  We spent about a decade together in the Boy Scouts (Troop 301 - Chickasaw Council) in a troop that camped every first weekend of every month, regardless of the weather. Add all the summer camps, 50 mile hikes and 50 mile boat trips, and other outings, I calculated we spent about a full year living in the wilderness - almost a tenth of our teen-age years!  John and I eventually became Eagle Scouts and had many adventures until we started to drift apart late in college.

One project that caught John's imagination was the new sport of hang gliding.  He built his own and as he started to try his wings, I sometimes came along to photograph the results. I was very much into photography by then and documenting this unique sight only seemed natural.  Soon the tall hills gave way to larger slopes and eventually to John jumping off of cliffs in his quest to fly with the birds. I took the two photographs shown here in 1975 as John just began to hone his flying skills.  Click on the images to enlarge.

John takes flight - 1975.
John was always interested in birds and raptors in particular, so it was no surprise to me that he later got a job with the Memphis Zoo working with the birds.  Once, John gave me the privilege of being allowed inside the giant enclosure where the Bald Eagles were kept and slowly and carefully approach one of their specimens.  In the early 1990's I saw John again at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN where he was doing a show for the public introducing them to eagles, hawks and other birds of prey.

I shouldn't have been surprised, then, to learn that John had combined his love of eagles with his passion for gliding.  A December, 1997 article in Reader's Digest (The Bravest Eagle, by Kristin von Kreisler) tells the remarkable story of how John helped rehabilitate a young Bald Eagle that had been shot near Osceola, Arkansas, but had his wing amputated.  The eagle, now named Osceola, would never fly again until John found a way to put the disabled bird into a harness and attach him to his hang glider where the two of them soared over the hills and meadows of eastern Tennessee.  The full story of Osceola and the amazing video of his flight can be found here.  One video and then another video have appeared on YouTube.  The story appeared on Good Morning America on October 21, 1996 and the American Eagle Foundation also has the story here.

Now John has published an e-book, An Eagle's Sky, My Life as a Birdman.  It's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the events of John's life that eventually led to his partnership with Osceola and the making of what I consider a minor modern-day legend.  Yes, yours truly is briefly mentioned in the book, but it is still worthwhile reading nonetheless. Images related to John and his book are being posted at this blog.

John Stokes, along with his wife, Dale, now works for Save Our American Raptors - South (S.O.A.R. South) rehabilitating raptors and educating the public.  To follow John's current schedule, check out his blog for S.O.A.R.-South.  I might as well include his Facebook page while I am at it: Osceola An Eagle's Sky.

It's satisfying to see John getting some recognition for the fine work he does.  Now if I can just get Reader's Digest interested in a little artwork...!

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