For My Stanford 35th Reunion: a bald eagle and Peter Buffett

(For our upcoming 35th reunion, I’ve contributed a page to our class book. Here’s what I wrote.)

Here’s a Stanford moment: I live on the outskirts of Woodstock, New York, near an old reservoir pond that’s like a wildlife refuge with its herons, beaver, and ducks. On a crisp November morning with ice in the driveway puddles, I went out to my car to lead my visiting cousin in his car into town for pancakes and oatmeal at my favorite bakery. The black vulture swooping low overhead wasn’t a vulture, but a bald eagle, not such an uncommon sight anymore, but this one carried a branch in its talons, a wooden snake, an omen. Now, I’m not much of a birder, but I know enough to know that a twig or in this case an inch-thick weathered branch in the claws = a nesting bird. Sure enough, the eagle spread its ungainly wings a moment later to hover over the ragged top of white pine not even a hundred feet into the woods across the road and dropped the branch into what at first glance looked like a meteor of sticks crashed high on the tree trunk. This nest must have been days, if not weeks in the making, though I caught up in my daily mishegas of unfinished writing projects hadn’t noticed it until now. In an instant this bird reminded me of why I’d quit mid-town Manhattan almost twenty years for the Catskills, namely, to have the wilderness as my neighbor. Now, come spring, I could watch them nesting and raising their young right across the street. I felt like I’d just been let in on a rare and special secret.

In the car I turned on the radio to my staple station, WDST. Whom did I hear being interviewed by the music DJ but Peter Buffett, my old friend from freshman year in Rinconada. We’d bonded as the two artsy types who enjoyed hanging out late in the lounge, while everyone else was off in their rooms doing engineering problem sets. (I didn’t touch a computer until half-a-dozen years after Stanford. Oh, if only I’d known what was happening all around me, the fledgling of Silicon Valley!) Within a few years Peter had moved up to San Francisco to begin his music career. After graduation I returned east and landed in Hoboken, where I eventually became a writer. More than thirty years later, we’ve both wound up in the Hudson Valley, though we’ve crossed paths only a few times. Because of his father’s largesse, he has become a philanthropist, and there he was on the radio talking about a farming initiative that he and his wife have launched in the area. But his genial manner took me right back to Rinconada, as if our lives were still young and full of big futures. What did it mean that I heard Peter’s voice moments after discovering the eagle’s nest? I don’t know, save that life offers us synchronicities that promise more than the ordinary.

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Here’s a photo Peter Buffett took of my crowded dorm room for the Stanford Daily. My mother kept everything. After she passed away I found this clipping in my old dresser drawer.

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