dark water

Who Is Mackie Spence?


Shifting restlessly in French class, I stare at Mackenzie Allison Spence, but not for the usual reasons. Sure, she has long, dark hair, mischief-flashing eyes, and curves as sweet as a well-placed ball on goal. But lately I’ve been trying to figure her out, which is odd because we’ve been friends since we were kids.

The big news about Mackie is that she almost drowned over summer break, when her family’s boat capsized in a storm off Yaquina Bay in Oregon. Her parents and sister were rescued within twenty minutes. In the deep troughs of fifty-two-degree water, Mackie wasn’t found for three hours and then she was in a coma for a week. A Coast Guard captain called her survival “one for the record books.”

That was just a few months before we started our junior year. Soltrice Island, a fifteen-mile square piece of land in Puget Sound, has only one high school. It’s a small place where everyone knows everyone. And it’s the kind of place where it’s nearly impossible to keep a secret for very long.

After she returned from near death in Oregon, I didn’t see much of Mackie. So, it surprised me when she appeared one August afternoon at the Olympic Wildlife Shelter.

As part of my volunteer duties, I was cleaning the Large Flight Cage, a wood and wire structure built to give big, injured birds a place to relearn flying. Mackie arrived outside the cage with our volunteer coordinator. Because the shelter has a low-contact policy that forbids talking around the animals, I could only nod to her when she walked outside the enclosure. Mackie nodded back at me as her eyes searched the inside of the cage.

But Number 26, our mature female bald eagle in Large Cage rehab, had a bizarre reaction. She lit on a low perch, turned to Mackie, put her head down, and pulled her wings in. All signs of deep respect from an eagle. Mackie gave Number 26 a smile like she’d just bumped into an old friend. How was Number 26 an old friend? I tightened my lips to keep quiet.

Since then, I’ve been with Mackie for five work sessions, and every time, the mammals, birds, and even a turtle acted weird. It’s like some pecking order kicks in and the animals calm down. An injured animal’s natural response to humans is fright and flight. Not around Mackie. She gets respect, every time. Very strange.