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.
As I mentioned last week, this summer I am taking time to reflect on what it means to say good-bye. Summers have always been a season of transition for me and this year is no different. This summer marks five years since I moved from my hometown of Denver and relocated with my family to Seattle. This season is also the end of many requirements such as a master’s degree, internship, externship and thousands of clinical hours necessary to become a licensed therapist in the state of Washington. For the first time in five years I have no one that I must answer to for a grade or for a signature of approval. And while to some, that may feel freeing, to me, it is terrifying. It means that the constant state of someone else being responsible for my fate has now shifted to me being responsible to create my own assignments and requirements for what it is I want to achieve.
I’d like to illustrate this contrast more clearly anecdotally.
On our recent family vacation, we visited two separate water resorts. One was Glenwood Hot Springs resort and the other was Denver’s epic Water World Outdoor Family Water Park. Going to both locations was a treat for me to share with my kids the places that I frequented when I was a child. And each experience was markedly different from the other.
Dipping into Glenwood Hot Springs was like sinking into one’s personal bathtub. The water is a balmy 93 degrees naturally and its presence on my skin felt like a hug over every inch of my body. If the pavement all around the pool was positively blistering, the water was its salve. In fact, I had gotten two large scratches on my arm earlier on the trip and had put ointment on them daily to try to prevent both scarring and infection. But after my time in the magic sulphur spring my wounds closed perfectly and looked better than they had since the initial puncture.
Even before we swam in the pool, when we exited the I-70 tunnel out of the canyon and into the town, I felt a sense of ease and peace and knowing. I had been there many times before and memories of youth trips and diving contests and steam off the hot water in the winter filled me with consolation and giddy elation. It was like coming home from college for Thanksgiving dinner. I was met with the sites and sounds of the familiar, of tradition, of knowing and being known and I was comforted.
My experience at Water World was vastly different. We went there in the afternoon because the astronomically priced tickets were half off. We knew this meant that we wouldn’t get to do everything we wanted to do, but Lucy and Peter are still young enough that a full day might have been too much sun and water for their little bodies to handle. Since we only had a few hours at the park, we chose our rides carefully, because we knew we would be waiting in line for at least an hour. Neither of our kids had been to water parks that had the caliber of rides that Water World affords, so they were wide-eyed and mesmerized from the time we entered the gates. So, even though waiting in line for an hour was less than ideal, we kept telling them that it was worth the wait. And after we rode on the spiral spinning cavernous Journey to the Center of the Earth, they agreed.
Next, we chose to wait in line for a ride where all four of us were seated in a large raft that would take us plunging down a steep incline and dump us into a toilet-bowl like structure where we would swirl around and around and around and finally be dumped onto another landing that slid us through a waterfall and out to the finishing pool.
One of the best moments of the whole trip was the look on Peter’s face when we approached the initial incline of the “toilet-bowl” ride. I had shifted in the raft to where I was heading backwards down the incline and couldn’t see where we were going. Peter, to my right, was looking dead ahead and saw what awaited us all. As I felt myself fall backwards, I looked at Peter. With goggles over his eyes and his mouth wide open, he screamed a sound that was a mixture of terror and delight while his face expressed the notion of being both scared and excited at exactly the same time. It was priceless. I would wait at least another two hours in line if it meant I got to see that expression again. In an instant, he captured for me what it feels like to be in a place where what awaits you is inextricably both exhilarating and absolutely terrifying.
Lest I digress into more dreams of time gone by, let me circle back to my initial paragraph. [The natural problem with using anecdotes is that they only illustrate the point if they’re not so long that one forgets the initial point meant to be made]. What I meant to demonstrate was contrast. The two water resorts were very different experiences of very much the same thing – water fun. One was comforting, soothing, even healing. The other was exhilarating, terrifying and unnerving. These are the two states that I currently find myself between. I am saying good-bye to the familiar of the last five years and awaiting the unfamiliar of the next five. One has been a source of consolation and healing, will the next be terrifying and unnerving, even if exhilarating at the same time?
Perhaps what is at the core of saying good-bye is that one is leaving the familiar and heading into what is unfamiliar. Who really ever wants to leave the cozy, warm and containing presence of knowing and being known into what seems to be the cold, stark and steep dive into the unknown? And yet, when I really think about it, if I had my choice, I would choose the experience of Water World and witness Peter’s face of exhilaration and delight over the comfort of the hot springs bath any day of the week and twice on a Sunday.
Thursday, December 20, 2012 plays in my mind like a bad song on repeat. The day started around 3 a.m. when my third child, Keaton, woke up crying. We have a routine for when this happens. I embrace my inner contortionist and mold my body next to his inside his crib. I then tickle his back and face while I sing a sleepy version of Jesus Loves Me. By the end of the song, Keaton is usually in a deep sleep. Not this night. This night was different. This night was chaos. I still have a difficult time finding words to adequately describe that night. Bizarre will do for now. He was beyond wide awake. It was as if Keaton had guzzled his body weight in energy drinks. He had a multitude of things to say, half of which I was unable to comprehend because of the early hour, the other half due to his 2 year old broken language. He had an amazing ability to identify when we were pretending to understand what he was saying, making us to repeat each word until he was satisfied we understood. His game was proving to be difficult this particular night, leading to great frustration on both ends. He paused often throughout his elaborate stories to drink water. He was thirsty, more than thirsty, he was parched – drinking 3 full glasses of water within minutes, and wanting more.
I begged the sun not to come up and I cursed it when it did. The monotony of the day was welcomed, and I knew Starbucks was only a drive-thru away. I told myself I only had to survive to nap time and then I could collapse. The hoped for monotony was anything but. Rushing out the door to get my second grader, Noah, to school on time led me to forget the sippy cup of of water Keaton desperately desired. We all paid for that mistake and the 20 minute drive to school and back felt like an eternity. Keaton was unconsolable. Once inside, Keaton calmed down at the sight of his sippy cup waiting patiently for him on the kitchen table, and I calmed down with a cup of house made coffee, which was going to have to do that day. The peace lasted only moments before Keaton was upset because his diaper had leaked, soaking his clothes in urine. I had just changed him before we took Noah to school. I rationalized it was because he drank so much water throughout the night. I walked him up to his room and the aroma of urine consumed the air. I reached down in his crib to console him with his favorite blanket and his entire bedding was soaked in urine too. This was the the third time that week I had changed his sheets. I wondered if perhaps he was outgrowing his diapers and needed a bigger size. Two kids in diapers must have had my senses fooled or accustomed to the urine scent, so much so that my daughter had to inform me that my own clothes reeked of the same urine smell. What in the world? I started a bath for Campbell, Keaton and Crew while I got in the shower to scrub the smell away. I peered around he corner to find Keaton’s mouth stretched around the faucet drinking the water faster than it came out. As I approached him a look of fear overtook his faucet filled face and his eyes pleaded for me not to turn off his water supply. As I got each kiddo out of the tub Keaton melted in my hands, tackling me to the ground and his naked body began to uncontrollably sob in my lap. I distinctly remember grabbing his wet arms and pulling him close, demanding he tell me what was wrong. I knew I was begging for an answer he didn’t have. Neither did I.
Nap time was getting close, but first we needed to take Campbell to afternoon Kindergarten. I was well aware that she had gotten no attention that morning and had watched a couple of hours worth of television as a babysitter while my focus was overtaken by Keaton. I quickly put a bow in her hair and rushed her out the door by demanding she get in the car. My tone was intense and my sensitive little 6 year old’s eyes began to swell with tears. I didn’t have the energy to make it right in that moment. I told myself I would apologize later that night and would remind her that I would be volunteering in her class the next day for her Christmas Party. That should more than make up for our off morning. As I forcefully picked Crew up to put him in his car seat, I realized I had missed all of his attempts toward walking that morning. He was almost there, ready to take off at any moment. Had I missed it? Did he perfect the art of walking while my attention was devoted to Keaton that morning? My nap was so close I could taste it. I felt resentment building as I ran inside to change Keaton’s full diaper once again. When I looked in his panicked eyes, my heart melted and I knew this was bigger than what I could fix.