We got in on a Monday night. The weekend was emotional and exhausting. We spent the week prior to our departure, packing and moving out of our home of four years and our community of eight years. Ivy Maude, our youngest, was an infant when we arrived in Provo. Tatum, our oldest, was just seven. We didn’t engage in a lot of fanfare with our departure. We still don’t have a home to move into yet, we simply packed, stored what belongings we cared to keep, and left. Lifting into the air in SLC was leaving behind a chapter of our lives. Our move is on to bigger and harder things. A necessary move. And it was time. This exodus to the north for the summer is a gift. Its hitting pause on our life for a few weeks before we plunge into the reality of our choices; an underwater suspension until we climb back on to land in SLC and move into a new set of dry walls to begin again. The kids cried as they drove away from our home for the last time. I cried when I turned out the lights for the last time and locked the doors. Not tears of sadness, we have spent much of the last eight years trying to leave, but tears of exhaustion, of transition, and of the weight of potential. Whatever that means.
|All packed up and ready to go.|
Needless to say, our first night in Homer felt like coming home. The bay welcomed us and begged us leave our worries at the door. She sang her tidal lullaby to us as we slept and we awoke to all the familiar and extraordinary sights and sounds she has to offer. The younger children ran to the beach with empty bellies, anxious to get reacquainted with the rocks and the bones while Tatum and I stood looking out and taking in her welcome. But instead of the calm and serene scene I was hoping to find, I saw an animal moving awkwardly, desperately in the water. An eagle, likely unwilling to give up a catch heavier than its ability to carry, was about a hundred yards away from the shore.
|My best attempt.|
It was in constant motion. This magnificent bird of flight was performing a most ungainly butterfly stroke of sorts. I could only make out a small head popping up in between these enormous upper wings coming out of the water only to plunge back under, propelling the creature forward. Again, and again, and again, the animal repeated this process: head, wings, plunge; head, wings, plunge. It was, at times rhythmic and strong, but then there were moments when it slowed. I wondered that the feathers, the very things that give this stately bird its elegant motion in the air, were a liability under water. With a six foot wingspan, the weight of the appendages were surely a burden. I did my best to prepare my heart for the possibility that I might spend my first day on the Kachemak watching an eagle drown.
I wanted to call for help. Surely there must be a way to scoop up this enormous bird and return it to the air where it belongs. Isn't that where it belongs? A small fishing boat was following it at a distance. It seemed to be watching the drama unfold from a closer vantage point than my own. Certainly the few people I could make out aboard were wishing there were something they could do, but we all had to resign ourselves to Nature and her sometimes cruel lessons. The boat was keeping a safe distance while it seemed to be motivating the eagle toward the shoreline. The reality was that there was nothing anyone could do but watch and wait and pray for the life of this precious stranger.
Little by little it got closer. It was exhausting just to witness the amount of strength required each time the massive wings appeared and then submerged again; the slowing, and then the recovery of its rhythm. Again and again, over and over the cycle continued and the longer the animal fought for its life, the more uncertain the outcome looked. But the word grit kept coming to my mind. For all the work and effort, this was an animal that was not going to allow the water to claim its life without a fight. It worked and worked and worked to live. And maybe this catch didn’t go as planned but it was not going to go down peacefully. It would flap and push and breathe and survive.
And after what must have been 10 or 20 minutes, it finally reached the shore. It walked out of the water and paced the beach for a few minutes then spread its hulking wings and took flight. I watched, relieved, inspired, and a little emotionally wrung.
This is our third visit to Alaska. Although I grew up in Southern California with the smell of salt water and citrus in my hair, and have spent most of my adult life in Utah where I've studied at the feet of the Wasatch mountains, Homer will always be one of my homes. And I have developed certain expectations of the experience now. I know that I’ll see otters playing in the bay all along the spit, sometimes solitary and at other times in large rafts, 20 or more clinging to one another and floating atop the ocean currents. We’ll watch and wave at them and secretly envy their seemingly carefree existence. I know that the Ravens (capitalized by my esteem) will be suspicious of us every time we walk down Lands’ End road. They will loudly communicate their unhappiness with our arrogance to so boldly saunter down the road they clearly have laid claim upon. I talk to them as I walk the short path and return their calls with my reassurance that we are friend, not foe. I know that when I try to bargain for our safe passage by promising peace, their calls to mobilize and dive-bomb my family are replaced with reluctant acceptance of the terms. And I will still feel and respect their distrust each time we pass.
|The Kachemak as we know Her.|
I know that we’ll see the busy comings and goings from the docks, creatures called fishermen and toursists. We’ll see boats come in heavy with a day’s catch and we’ll watch the gulls follow those boats from a certain distance so as to gather whatever might get left behind. Occasionally, a seal will make an appearance nearby to watch the hustle and bustle of the curious bi-peds and their alien ways. The summer will be largely overcast, the beaches will be rocky, the tourists will be anxious to catch something to brag about, and the locals will be gracious, although would prefer to not be bothered.
And I will see the American Bald Eagles. A lot of them. But they are more elusive. They seem to be aware of the status to which we have placed them. They swoop into the bay to catch feed for their families. The eagles mate for life, you know. I might see one on the beach foraging a carcass left behind by a less efficient predator, or soaring overhead as they survey the days’ offerings. But they never stay long. I rarely see one still long enough to get a good picture, let alone to try to imagine its relationship with the other creatures of the bay. I see the Raven mob occasionally try to intimidate an eagle, or the gulls follow one for leftovers, but they keep to themselves for the most part. Disconnected from the land and the sea while dependent on them. I expected to watch their impressive wingspan soar past my window and if I am lucky to land on the beach below. I didn't know I'd watch it fight like hell for its life in the liquid otherworld. I didn’t know eagles swim. And I didn't expect to see it happen.
Occasionally I bite off more than I can chew, so to speak. More often than not, my very best plans go wrong. Brigham and I have had a way of choosing the hard road on almost every decision we’ve made as a family. At the end of this life that I have had the great gift to live, I hope my children will learn a few things from us: I hope they will find a way to love this complicated life. I hope that they will choose to love and forgive their fellow human creatures. I hope that they will find a great passion and go after it without reserve. I hope that they will each find someone who will grow old with them. And I hope more than anything that they know they were built to fly, but when life requires it (and it certainly will), I hope that they will dig deep and swim like hell.