Lafayette Park, facing the White House, was inhabited one recent unseasonally winter day by Washingtonians treasuring the weather. Scattered among them were out-of-towners with maps and cameras, pleased at having chosen such a perfect time to visit Washington; Hare Krishna youth in saffron togas drumming themselves into a trance; and a loose pack of sleek fat pigeons, boldly cadging snacks.

The sky ws clear blue and the air clean-smelling. Although autumn had already passed, certain trees in the park held fast to their leaves, and these rattled lazily in a lazy wind, in concert with the rattle of lunch bags being probed or wadded.

Into this unexceptional and tranquil early winter scene dropped a full-grown eagle -- talons arched, beak grim -- and in no more than five seconds, one waddling pigeon was dead. Its luckier fellows flew up, wings knocking like chattering teeth. Onlookers gasped and stared. The Hare Krishnas, appearing to notice nothing, drummed on.

"My God, where did it come from?" cried a young blond woman in a jade green three-piece suit.

"Ugh, poor pigeon," her companion shuddered. "Can't anyone do something?"

"Do something? This is nature, my dear. This is the real thing," admonished an elderly gentleman with a cane.

The eagle, having pinned the pigeon to the ground with one claw, tore at its feathers with the other. Soft wisps of sorrel and white soon covered the corpse.

"Wait till Emily sees this," said a teen-aged girl in designer jeans, moving in very close and aiming her lens. "Boy, she'll never believe it."

"I don't believe it,' her mother sais in a low voice.

"That's a hawk," someone insisted. "There aren't any eagles around here." "Guess he heard Washington was pigeon city," commented a tall, portly man in a camel's hair coat.

"Funny it doesn't mind people," said an I.C.A. employe with silver hair, who knew an eagle when he saw it. "Maybe it escaped from the zoo."

"He knows he's on the endangered species list," said a young man, with admiration in his voice. "No one's going to bother him."

The Hare Krishnas' eyes were fixed, perhaps, on an inner vision of the Divine. They tossed their monotonal chants out as though hoping Krishna would catch them.

The eagle continued his assault. The pigeon's limp, pale body, not nearly featherless, was candy-striped with blood.

"It could have something to do with the election," quipped a middle-aged woman in a skyblue dress.

"It's an omen. Reagan's the eagle and we liberals are the pigeon," said the I.C.A. man.

Sensing the encroching crowd, the eagle fidgeted as he ate, tearing strips of flesh like beef jerky and glaring about. He opened his wings threateningly. The crowd moved back in alarm. The eagle struggled into the air, gripping and then dropping the pigeon's plucked and snarled remains.

Twice he circled, so low that people could feel the wind stirred by his wings. He perched in a tree, hunched over, balefully regarding his abandoned prize.

For a while the onlookers lingered, hoping the eagle would do something else dramatic, but he merely flew to another tree. The crowd slowly dispersed. Bureaucrats departed for their offices, tourists for the White House or the Renwick Gallery. Gradually the pigeons returned to skirt the park's far edges.

Finally, the eagle took to the air, flying higher and higher in ever-winding ellipses until he appeared, from the ground, the size of a very small pigeon.

The Hare Krishnas didn't even glance skyward.