Friday, February 11, 2011

Vancouver Lake in March

Have you ever witnessed something so incredible that you wanted to share it with others? Sometimes it is as simple as running your finger over the velvety softness of a purple pansy petal, but other times it is more complex, like the very first laugh of a baby.

Photograph by Melanie Sherman

A few years ago I bought a kayak. It was the kind of sunny, warm March day when you feel spring nipping at winter’s heels. I loaded my kayak onto my car and sped down to Vancouver Lake. I lugged the vessel down to the water’s edge and strapped myself into the life jacket. Squeezed into the little cockpit, I set out on the lake, paddling toward the small island in the middle. A bald eagle circled and I stopped to watch. His wings spread wide to catch the wind, he circled once, twice, three times. Then he glided down, barely touched the surface of the water and lifted again, a fish clutched in his claws. It was magnificent.

Photo by KetaDesign

He flew to the island and with graceful flapping, settled on a bare tree branch. I paddled closer toward the island and then I saw another eagle, perched in the same tree. My gaze swung to the next tree. Two or three eagles clung to the naked branches. I paddled closer until the kayak bobbed twenty feet from shore and my breathing came quick and shallow. Every tree supported at least one eagle, but some as many as five. There must have been sixty or seventy.

Photograph by Andrew (Tawker)

And there, flying helter-skelter between the empty branches in a grove of trees, three juvenile eagles chased each other in a hectic game of tag. Over the gentle lapping of water I could hear the sound of their wings hitting the bark as they weaved through the maze of limbs at full speed, while the adults watched from their perches.

Photo by KetaDesign

When I got home, I sent out emails to kayaking friends. The next weekend, a dozen of us motored into the parking lot and rigged our kayaks, buckling into our life jackets, adjusting our sunglasses, slathering on sunscreen. We set off toward the middle amid the joyous silence of anticipation. But something was different. There were no birds flying, none preening in the branches, no teenagers cavorting. The trees loomed; empty and barren.

I stopped and gazed up, disappointment welling inside. When my eyes lowered to the water, nearly a dozen kayakers surrounded me and stared, one of them plucking little sprays of water from the surface with his blade. “An island filled with eagles, huh?” one of them scoffed.

My mouth dropped open, but it took several tries before the words came out. “They were here last week. Honest they were.” I pointed to the stillness of the island. They stared a while longer before, one by one, they turned and paddled back to shore.

Photograph by Tequesquitengo

Yes, I was sad I didn’t get to see the birds again, but my biggest disappointment was not being able to share it with others, because the wonders of the world are best when shared.


  1. Yay for kayaking. And you know why the birds went, don't you? Because you brought a load of noisy nosy humans to their island. You should have kept their secret!

  2. This made me remember my eagle stories.
    When we were in Alaska, cruising up to a calving glacier, I spotted an eagle floating on top of an enormous chunk of amazingly blue ice.
    And once, by the Cape Meares lighthouse, I saw two eagles mating.
    I didn't have a camera with me either time, but the images are printed on my brain for as long as I live.

  3. Jenku,

    So nice to hear from you. And I know you've been doing a lot of kayaking in England. But we were quiet, honest we were. I think it was an overnight visit on their way north.


    What is it about the birds the imprints our memories? What a fabulous picture that would have been in Alaska. Can you go to Walmart and print out the vision in your head?

  4. It wasn't meant to be shared. I used to drop off Phia in the morning at a friends before Logan was born. There was a light pole that always turned red just as I was pulling up. I cursed it for months. Then one morning when I had a hot cup of coffee and a good nights sleep and wasn't late I got stopped at my light. I noticed a little hole in the pipe that held the lights. Out of that little hole popped a bird. Out she flew circling around and then back in she went. She was mine. My morning battle cry to freedom from schedules and dirty diapers. I spent the rest of the year praying for red lights not green. Whats a few minutes for that excitment? The quick intake of breath when you spot her. In this I say it was a sight only meant for you.

  5. Jars,

    It is incredible what joy we can feel if we just look around us. Your little bird in the light standard, Carolyn's eagle on the iceberg, my very own three juvenile eagles playing tag among the trees. Fantastic. (I'll bet Jenku has kayaking stories...)


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