July 30, 2016


Two timeless backyard events captured my imagination this week.

I was watering the garden last Monday when I heard a young man’s voice count to five…one, two, three, four, five; one, two, three, four, five, over and over. At first I thought it was a neighbor doing calisthenics. Then I realized the count was coming from a series of First Nation/Native American traditional canoes paddling in the Puget Sound below our home. The sight was stunning. Yes, I had read that canoes would be converging in our area as they headed to a gathering of the Northwest tribal canoeists near Seattle. But as I looked out over the water to the beautiful, colorful canoes paddled in rhythm by six or so canoeists of various ages I experienced a strange feeling for which I had no word. I had been transported back perhaps thousands of years when these native people and their canoes plied these waters, counting, perhaps singing, chanting. I could only imagine the intimacy of the experience of working in union for miles at a time, focused, bonded. I don’t believe I am not romanticizing the impact the canoeists had on me. I was in fact witnessing a contemporary version of a way of life that was sustained for hundreds or thousands of years - the intimacy of deep purpose, using the water in unison, and sharing a sense of ancient solidarity within their community. As I write this my effort at interpretation seems thin, and I am actually not sure why the experience touched me so deeply. We live perhaps in some place of subconscious ancestry with indigenous people, mostly forgotten amidst our modern lives, and for an all too fleeting moment the canoeists evoked that place in me. I traveled to another time.  

A second event from my backyard is equally engaging and delighting my imagination. We have an eagle’s nest/eerie sixty feet up in a tree only thirty yards from our home, and this week the baby eagle began the process of fledging the nest. Judging from the comparatively high peeps and chirps, at least in comparison with its parents, I had expected to see a relatively small bird pop up. But what actually appeared is a full-winged creature almost as sizable as its parents. It is now practicing its wing flappings and is squeaking endlessly - beginning at 4:30 in the morning! - apparently calling for more food - which is not surprising given its size. So before our eyes is the ancient ritual of fledging the nest, this time eagle style. But the drama is universal. Our fledging children of all stripes complain about the restrictions of their home and yearn to be free from their dependency. But actually leaving the security of the “nest” is another matter, both for the fledgling and the parent. The parent impatiently hopped along an accompanying branch the other day as much as to say, “You just need to leave. Now. Fly already you big lug!" And perhaps at the same time worrying about that drop of sixty feet amidst branches and the uncertainly of being able to make a go of it and to land some place safely. 

Amidst the uncertainly of these days ancient rituals like these that defy time are also happening. Eagles learn to fly; indigenous canoeists ply their ancestral waters. There is a glimmer of assurance in these backyard events for our anxious times. Hold on to the assurance that both these beautiful, thriving indigenous people and the eagles are also survivors from threats of extinction. They persevere. No guarantees. Just assurances.