An Eagle’s Story

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles…” Isaiah 40:31

4

We are still in the dead of winter as I write this, but spring is definitely coming as snow and rain interchange, and we’ve had our first nearly 60-degree day. In our backyard, squirrels are calling and chasing one another and owls hooting songs from our neighbors’ trees. One hundred feet high and mere yards from our bedroom windows, a resident bald eagle pair is putting the finishing touches on their new abode.

Mama eagle, named Ginger (as a family of dancers we couldn’t resist), is roosting in the nearly six-foot-wide nest in the tallest White Pine nearest our rooftop. Her regal head looks around, proudly guarding her territory. She doesn’t seem to mind the rest of us who live here, with our music and occasional bonfire. She watches us come and go, cocks her head to the side when I call for her and wave. She cries to papa eagle, named Gene, who swoops in with another beak full of fuzzy nest liners of bush and bramble to insulate their new home. Rumor has it that eagles can lay eggs as early as February, even before the cold days leave and other animals fully wake from hibernation. And, Gene and Ginger seem to be ready for parenthood.

Last year, Ginger was not so fortunate. She and her former partner, Fred, tried fervently to build a proper nest, but storm after storm, tore it apart, sadly…branch by branch. By April, our whole yard held its remnants. Then something happened to Fred. The entire summer we watched Ginger come and go, alone, with no sign of her mate in sight. She sat and ate meals of rabbit and pike by our patio. Her sense of loneliness was obvious. By autumn we assumed her partner had either left or passed away.

Online research told us that eagles mate for life. The female chooses their home, and if her significant other leaves or dies, she often stays put, waiting to find another life partner to approve of her home. But after a warm Fall of going it solo, by November, Ginger gave up, abandoned her nest, probably for a warmer winter hiding spot by the Minnesota River Valley. We missed her calls and cries outside our window at Christmas and didn’t know if she’d ever return.

Happily mid-January she came back, with a new mate, a freshly fortified nest and a renewed hope for a future with promise of little eaglets likely by spring.

A dear friend’s daughter recently died after many years of a suffering illness. The morning she passed, I saw the eagle pair soaring free in the horizon, and I was reminded of scripture and God’s provision for us of wings, like eagles, to shelter us and bear us up in times of trouble and loss. Eagles are praised as the most attentive parents of all the bird species and perhaps the greatest teachers of their young. God, our heavenly Father, is continually providing for us, teaching us, and has built the ultimate nest for us to abide with Him in our eternal home.

Through her loss last year, Ginger never gave up hope. She came back, rebuilt her nest, and started anew. For me, this eagle is not just a symbol of God’s strength, but also one of resilience, not unlike that of the disciples in scripture or my dear friend and her brave daughter. Each reminds me to never give up in times of trial or loss.

So remember Ginger’s story and God’s promise. Hold fast to hope through the storms, even when your earthly nest seems to be torn in two, or you find yourself alone. God is here with us, faithful and true. And like an eagle, God covers us, protects us, provides for us and will lift us up on wings so we may soar.

Original publication: Gethsemane Gazette Newsletter March 2017

Advertisements

Labyrinth


Left, right, left, right. I plod the unicursal path of switchbacks and circles trying desperately to focus on one question “where do I go, now”? My strides are intent as I press the unleveled foam mulch below me. My ankles wobble to balance my step, I haven’t much trust in my footing. That is the purpose of this contemplative maze – and its singular path to the center, to carry in a concern or burden, a devotion or question of your self, the universe, or for God, and leave with an answer and renewed hope.

Over 25 years before, at a sacred dance conference, I was coached though my very first labyrinth– a beautiful marble inset on the steps of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Amidst dozens of tourists, curious pigeons and the honk of traffic, I managed to have a prolific religious experience, complete with seated prayer in the labyrinth’s center and a weightless return out, as if all burdens had been lifted from my heart. I don’t remember exactly what I was asking for that day, but because of the goings-on in my life at the time, my eating disorder, relational struggles, my guilt, I’m sure it had something to do with forgiveness.

Since then, I’ve completed many a personal maze, even laminated ones for index fingers, with at least some meditative success. And, I’ve choreographed a sacred dance piece on labyrinth-patterned carpet in a methodist church that wanted a Lenten worship piece about sin and salvation. It was a structured improvization, creative free choice, allowing the dancers to commit to the moment, and experience communal inspiration. We lined the path with candles, chose a collective concern and then crawled or trudged the first half of the journey. In the center we took turns falling or lifting each other up, and then spun and leaped out way out. I am very aware of the powerful metaphor this Ancient Greek symbol, like the maze once created to contain the Minotaur beast, holds in the life of faith seekers. The desire to confront your fear and slay the ties that bind you with the courage of Theseus, the passion of Christ.

But today, despite all of my efforts, the buzz of Japanese beetles, the repetitive clack of a woodpecker and various aches and pains take center stage in this search for clarity in my life. I had great expectations as I began this journey. It was to be a time to think, to feel, to choose what I will do with my life now that my husband and I are closing the dance studio we have owned for over two decades. Perhaps my distraction comes from the financial stress of previous weeks, or the accident that broke my pelvis, sacrum and shoulder five months before and the sluggish healing process that has left me wondering if I will ever dance or teach again. It could be the concern over my daughter with special needs turning 21 and what her life will look like outside of school, just as her younger brother heads off to college. Perhaps it is the wandering of my mind, nearing its half century mark–a symptom I recognize in my aging mother. Or the laziness of my faith life, my recent lack of prayer, worship and commune with my God that has left me feeling less than whole.

Instead of offering up my question, confronting my demons, which was my reason for being here, I find myself obsessing about the prickly heat of the sun on my neck, the annoying bang of birch branches blowing in the wind, the slight smell of manure in a nearby fertilized field. I find little patience for the present journey that taunts me, taking me close to, then far away from a bench in the center that is my goal. I feel heavy, wasted and exhausted. After more dizzying turns, with one last curve, I enter the pinnacle of the maze and plop onto the cool marble slab, under the shade of a newly planted tree. I exhale.

I look back out over the twists and turns I just traveled and am suddenly aware of it’s beauty. The stones that line the path are of different colors, shapes and sizes –some seem to glow in the sunlight. The complexity of the common medieval design seems uniquely awe inspiring, as if I am looking through the eyes of one of the very first Christians to pilgrimage a labyrinth, on their knees. I find myself wondering how long it took to lay the foundation and place each stone precisely, and how the designers decided the exact size of the maze, the texture of its turf and perfect placement in this field on the hill. I wonder who chose the tree next to me, and if they knew it would turn such a lovely shade of amaranth in Autumn.

I lay down on the bench, my face to the clouds, and watch the leaves dance. God’s creation, truly breathtaking. I give Him a little shout out of thanks. My arms stretch open, freeing up my sore arm and the pain that has wound me so tight.

“Help me.” I say.

“Let go.” I hear, in the rustling leaves.

A rush of peace, like the tickle of tiny feathers, sweeps over me. For the first time in months I feel safe; no worry, no agenda, no question.

I close my eyes and rest.

And then a word comes. Meander. Such a curious and playful muse. It tells me this is not the time for big decisions in the midst of inevitable change. I must let go of my need to know the outcome and relax in the self metamorphosis to come.

It is for the path, not the goal, I must go.

I stay there long enough for the shade to shift a bit and then lift myself up. The time it takes to exit the labyrinth seems nearly half that of coming in. My feet are more secure, and I take each corner with ease. There’s a bounce to each step, rebounding the mulch. I take care to appreciate the stones this time and the spaces between, the warmth of the sun on my face. I carry gratitude with me for ancient warriors and compassionate pilgrims, their battles and sacrifices, and even the beasts they feared. I have newly clad armour and shiny sword to take with me from this maze in my new meandering quest.

 

(Written: October, 2015)

The Newlyweds

Banking left, in swoops and glides, He silently settles on the right most branch next to his mate. He’s brought another nest offering, a twig larger than his wingspan, and plops it atop their cloud-height home. She looks at him over her shoulder, with a cockeyed crane of her white neck as if waiting for this one to drop, too. But somehow it stays, wedged at an awkward angle. He stands on it, opens his wings and lifts his beak. Success.

At the base of our front yard pine there are dozens upon dozens of such twigs and sticks from the previous nest attempts. My husband and I have determined that our new yard mates, and national treasures, are most likely newlyweds. Only an ignorant young couple would attempt to make a home mid-windstorm one day and mid-spring snowstorm the next, and not get the hint. Or maybe they are just extremely determined, under a time crunch and she is ready to plop out their next generation.

I’ve googled these creatures, who have made their new abode right above our bedroom window, pooped on our front stoop and rooftop, and dropped rabbit carcasses in our side yard. I have emailed the raptor center at the University of Minnesota in complete concern of the fact that in less than 2 months we will be having a hundred people in our yard for my son’s grad party, and although I know pigeons in Rome have “good-luck” excrement, what about Minnesotan bald eagles? I picture putting a “poop guard” under our front tree — and handing out slickers (blue and gold, of course) to everyone as party favors. But will our guests appreciate the fact that the school’s mascot might bring fresh meat to our BBQ?

I discovered there are laws in place that might keep us from doing anything to scare these lovely creatures from leaving their nest once they settle. So we may not be able to get our storm-damaged fence fixed and our new patio paved before June, or blast our son’s favorite music over the loud speaker for the inevitable dance mob of seniors, if they drop eggs first. Eagles mate for life, live for around 28 years, and return to raise their children every spring after their winter stay in the Mississippi River Valley. These new neighbors of ours, and this Discovery Channel reality show, might out-live my husband and me.

So it’s a love, not-so-much love, relationship.

When I was little, I coveted visits to the Montanan mountains where my mom grew up and vacations in the Tetons with my family. We’d take raft trips down the Yellowstone, peering through binoculars in search of uncommon wildlife. Awestruck, we’d find a rare eagle’s nest in the trees along the river banks and watch the beautiful creatures come and go like ethereal ghosts from the Wild, Wild West. Last summer, my husband and I discovered that the area around our lake had such beauties. They’d circle overhead and dive the water’s surface in the summer and scoop up fish, or duck, like a National Geographic special. It was rumored that for decades an eagle pair and its extended family have nested in the neighborhood north and only occasionally dined on our waterfront.

I blame my husband for changing the natural order of things.

We are a pet-less family, and since we moved into our new home a year and a half ago, he’s been feeding all the squirrels with handfuls of grain and cobs of corn secured on special “squirrel” tree seats so they can eat in style. He has embraced our suburban lake home with the enthusiasm of St. Francis. He also fed the geese kibbutz and the flock of ducks that took over our lawn last summer. So why wouldn’t the eagles relocate to where the buffet was?

I had a talk with them today, He and She. Yes, I realize we will probably have to name them soon. I told them of my concerns over their messiness, and scolded them at their careless nest making. Being a parent, I worry for their offspring. I fantasize faceting a special eagle “bin” and training them to poop and drop their meal remains in something I can discard with our weekly garbage. Yes, I know this is highly unlikely.

My husband just sent me the emailed plans for our new patio, the paver design, the depth of soil to be dug out by diggers. Perhaps the newlyweds will appreciate our attempts at “fancifying”our home, maybe they will stay even when the fence pounding starts, the cement is poured and the fire pit gets delivered. And maybe, their ultimate plan is to hang out with us on summer nights and listen to John Mayer over my son’s bluetooth speaker and watch the fading sunsets.

Graduating Me

Both my children are graduating this coming June. My son, basketball captain and student body president, and his petite older sister with Down syndrome and hearing loss will don on their caps and gowns, walk the stage and receive their final high school diplomas only one week apart. And I have already started practicing. I’ve practiced multiple scenarios: surviving the ceremonies without meltdowns, bestowing words of wisdom on my son, and prayers to ease my daughter’s fear of attention. But since I get misty whenever I receive emails from my son’s counselor about the upcoming Senior Breakfast, and panic with notice from my daughter’s social worker on Adult Day Programming options, I am certain I will not live through the next few months.

Certainly, as a mom I knew this was coming. It was an inevitable part of this mothering journey. But to have two at once, and such different circumstances, I can hardly process my thoughts from moment to moment. Such pride, oh my son, his multiple successes, servant-leader heart, the offers of scholarships from colleges, so many choices before him. And my daughter, her innocent unknowingness, my fear of what the big world will do to her shy nature and her non-verbal voice. One child will be catapulted into a world of possibilities while I search to find even one possibility for the other. Joy, pathos…yep.

My husband and I visit campuses with my son, talk dorms and celiac-friendly cafeterias, and dread the loss of him living across the hall. All the while, I reject day program after day program (none offer sign language para support) and contemplate the potential permanency of my daughter by my side day in and day out. Then I wake from dreams of me, disappearing.

I’ve been one woman the past 21 years, since my Sarah came into this world, and another when Jacob entered nearly three after that. I’ve worn the motherhood cloak like a second skin, it was natural, warrior-like in its armor, if a little tattered and haphazardly fashioned. I really believe to the core of who I am, that I was meant to be a mom. From the days of lining up all my dolls on the couch and naming each one, it was my destiny. So when motherhood usurped my dance career and changed my personal goals, I was able to justify the loss of the “me” before. But now, when I see my role as mother change completely, I can hardly breathe.

No longer are the daily lunch bags, uniform washings, coercing my kids awake and out the door, counselor meetings and homework reminders. No more are the days where I know my daughter is safe and tended to, familiarity of staff and texts from teachers that truly care, safe bus drivers, educational plans that just might get Sarah to communicate in full sentences, someday. Now, Jacob will write his papers late at night alone, and Sarah will only learn something if I teach her.

After a senior parent meeting last fall, where we were guided on the steps toward my son’s graduation day (the deadlines for yearbook photos and parent dedications, and the importance of encouraging a tame senior skip day), I joked with the principal that they should provide therapy for us “graduating moms”. There were at least four of us who had our last kid graduating and then the umbilical chord to school life would be severed. What were we to do without months of basketball games and the seasonal band concert, quarterly parent-teacher communication and possibilities of snow days. How could we survive without weekly News Notes and planning for the next parent volunteer event.

It’s not a completely self-absorbed thing to assert that, come June, I will be forced to graduate. Yet, I will not don a cap with a gold tassel – or move it from one metaphorical side to the other. No certificate will be placed in my hand and no one will shake the other. Definitely no photo of me will be put on the mantle, showing my motherly accomplishment of the past two decades. Yet as I break down in sobs twice in one week, smearing my makeup with tissues, I will remember that as I get tossed out into the real world that the valedictorian’s well-planned speech will be talking to me, too.