It was a rare January afternoon: sunny, balmy, the warm wind-stirred air teasing senses with spring. A perfect day for the refuge, our first since the arrival of the geese last fall. As we began our slow meander around the familiar loop, windows rolled down, seat belts off, Walt with his camera ready, me with the binoculars, I began my search for this day's miracle.
This sacred place where birds come to be safe, where the air shimmers with unearthly colors, where the sky is so big anything seems possible - this land offers me at least one miracle every single time I'm here. These are not the it's-a-miracle-because-all-of-nature-is-a-miracle kind of miracles. These are full-blown, even Moses would be impressed, no room for doubt miracles.
About two-thirds of the way around on this day, I began to prepare myself for disappointment, or at the least to adjust my definition of miracle. We'd seen coots, great blue herons, red tail hawks. Pin tail ducks were flocked in larger numbers than I'd ever seen before, but even their art-deco beauty didn't quite meet my criteria. There were tundra swans in the hundreds, huge elegant avian angels filling the air with their chuckles and chattering, but nothing about their presence sang miracle.
I found myself thinking about bald eagles. Looking for them, as I always do at the refuge. And becoming aware that I receive miracles because I seek them. It doesn't work to decide I'm going to see a bald eagle and that will be my miracle. Deciding anything doesn't work. Seeking and being open are the fertile ground from which miracles spring.
We were almost at the end of the loop - just one long straight stretch to go - when we stopped to watch some geese gathered close to the road. Walt had turned the car off so we could enjoy their mutters and honks, and my eyes were delighting in the textures of their feathers and colors in contrast to the grass glowing in the rare winter sunlight. In one sudden uprush they took to the air. We looked at each other in puzzlement. There was no obvious reason for the geese to spook.
I looked behind us to see if something there could account for the goose panic.
That would do it. Not one, but two bald eagles. Both young. One just getting his white head, the other still mottled brown. We watched them for a very long time as the older hunted and ate while the younger tried to steal, unsuccessfully, and resorted to stalking the other in hopes of a handout.
It started with an e-mail from middle brother Mark titled "Clare's Dad." Clare is older brother Frank's wife. Her dad in his eighties. The message was no surprise. He had died the day before. The funeral would be Friday.
I had never met Clare's dad. I was mad at Frank for calling Mark, but not me. We had company coming Friday night. So when Mark said he was going to the funeral I was torn. Even when he said younger brother Geoff and his wife would be going - probably. I didn't want to go, but I love Frank and Clare both, and this dad was a good dad to them both, so his death would leave a huge hole in both their lives.
I stewed. I prayed. I talked to Walt. Still uncertain, except I kept getting a picture of Frank looking up to see his three siblings sitting together in love for him. And that took me to yes. The four Lyons "kids" (all over fifty now) had not been in the same place together, friendly or otherwise, for almost a decade. Geoff, who has been estranged from Frank for years now, was going. How could I not?
Our united presence at that funeral became a tangible force of love. When I first saw my larger-than-life brother serving as one of the pall bearers for Clare's dad, he looked old and hunched and diminished. The only way I recognized him was his fuzzy halo of white hair. By the time we left much later in the day, after standing and talking as a family - joking, crying, hugging - Frank running to get his camera to record the momentousness the occasion - he was standing taller and much more himself.
Driving home after, Mark reflected on a book he's teaching for Sunday School in which the author talks about how God nudges us. And if we listen to the nudges, every day miracles will happen. Mark went on to share that this author believes miracles are commonplace (oxymoron?), and would be even more so if we as humans would pay more attention to the nudges.
Bald eagles are certainly becoming common in my life. Yet I always, every single time, experience them as miracles. As I learn to trust that small still voice within, the one that provides the nudges, I expect miracles will become more and more common. I seek. I'm open. I believe.
family photo by Frank's wife, Clare