For as long as I can remember, my dad has taken every available opportunity to point out large birds of prey flying high in the sky or perched on telephone wires. We might be driving down I-25 from Littleton to Colorado Springs and see a number of falcons or hawks circling open fields looking for their evening dinner. Most people cruising down the six-lane highway would be oblivious to these remarkable creatures or mistake them for mere crows or vultures or even ospreys. But my father would rather easily be able to tell the difference between a red-tailed hawk and a peregrine falcon from a distance. Among other strange talents my dad has acquired in his lifetime, being a falconer is quite possibly one of his favorites. The story about how he trained to become a licensed falconer is one for another time. Suffice it to say that if we ever wanted to get my dad something for his birthday or Father’s Day, it would be some kind of bald eagle ornament or statue. He grew quite the collection of his favorite bird of prey.
This picture circa 1970s is of my dad with Omega, the official bird of the US Federal Fish and Wildlife Service. Because he so readily admired great birds of prey, their majesty and splendor, I too have taken to appreciating them as well. So, on our summer road trip, Karl and the kids often heard me shout that I saw some kind of hawk or falcon flying in the sky just out our window (though I didn’t know the difference unless I saw the fanciful tail feathers of the red-tailed hawk, I knew that one). We even saw one dive into the brush and come out with a snake dangling it its grip. It’s quite amazing what you can witness when you have particular eyes to see and know for what you’re looking.
Now, living in the Pacific Northwest, I find it both a privilege and an honor to see bald eagles regularly. In fact, there is one who frequents Green Lake, the neighborhood I live in. Perched high above the water in an amazingly ancient evergreen, you can see him from nearly halfway around the lake. Yet, even though I get to see these incredible birds far more often than I ever did in Colorado (in fact, some may never get a chance to see our national bird up close), the sighting never ceases to take my breath away, pull my car over and take a picture if I can, and just soak in the grandeur of the magnificent creature.
Unfortunately, it is illegal to pull my car over where I last saw a bald eagle.
The east side is to the city of Seattle what the Denver Tech Center is to downtown Denver. Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland are meccas for technological industries like Microsoft and Nintendo. Once a week at 4:00 PM, I drive from my home on the west side of town across Lake Washington to contract at a location other than my neighborhood office. That time of day is the worst time to be on I-5. Traffic is backed up even on the ramp to get onto the highway. Cars move at a ridiculously slow pace and one might find herself listening to the same CD over and over and over, just in one mind-numbing commute. And isn’t it odd when traffic is so slow, you imagine there must be an accident up ahead, only to find out there is zero reason for the painfully sluggish pace?
But once I hit the 520 going east, traffic speeds up and there is a sort of pleasant rhythm driving on the bridge passing over the concrete seams and whipping by the street lamps. I enjoy that part of my commute. There is something about watching the water that is soothing. When it is windy, you can literally see white caps on the waves to the south side of the bridge, and absolute calm to the north. Last week, I saw two people kite surfing on my left while the waves were aggressively chasing each other on my right. And up ahead, perched high above the road on top of a large streetlight, was the unmistakable white head of a bald eagle. I spotted it and gazed at it just long enough ahead of me before glancing in my rear-view mirror to see it one more time. The moment felt akin to seeing a shooting star. Maybe it was nostalgia. Or, perhaps it was relief coming off the stress of previous traffic. Maybe the feeling is what you get when you witness something that takes you by surprise. Whatever happened in that moment, seeing that wonderfully splendid bird felt like a gift – one that I strove to see as long as possible without veering off the road or causing an accident. I wonder how many other thousands of drivers were crossing the bridge at the same time and saw that glorious creature? Did they miss out on a moment of wonderful? Or are they just better drivers? I suppose both are possibilities.
But I conclude that I saw that bird because I wanted to see it. I look for birds of prey. I spot the differences between commonly found fowl and those that are rare and resplendent. How I learned to identify these creatures was just osmosis, something I picked up from my dad. But now, I see because I want to. My heart longs to witness the mysterious, surprising, unpredictable beauty that is all around but we so often fail to see. I desire to be captivated by the unusual, random acts of wonderful that are available for each of us to experience. But where are we looking? Down? Up? Ahead? Behind? Across? What are we looking for? Are we afraid to look because we will be so disappointed if we do not see?
Well, guess what? Later that night when I was returning to my home in Seattle, I was hoping, wishing and maybe even praying for a glimpse of that bald eagle once again. And wouldn’t you know it – I didn’t just see one, I saw two.