Yesterday, the first of the Japanese Tsunami trash came to our island. My son Noah found a large black plastic buoy adrift behind Bear Island, thousands of miles from home. Debris has found landfall along the Aleutian Chain, in Southeast, on the Washington and Oregon coasts. Scientists are worried about invasive species hitching a ride, intruding upon the ecosystem and settling down, making a home within the local ecosystems.
I couldn’t help but think of myself and all the rest of us who washed ashore here in Alaska. Uprooted by storms, we left our first home and drifted, looking for a place to settle and call home again.
I’ve found it here. But it has come hard and taken decades.
This week, on a hike on Harvester Island this week, I spied a bald eagle’s nest atop a bluff just 100 feet from the trail.
There are at least three nesting pair on our island, and countless pairs in the bay. We watch them tirelessly. But this nest was special---it was below me, so I could clearly see the two eaglets sprawled out within it. Like all the eaglets I’ve seen on this island, they are stupendously ugly, with no hint of what they’ll soon become. (I'll be posting a visual diary of their growth and progress through the summer. Stay tuned!)
But it’s their nest that interests me now. “Nest” suggests comfort, warmth, security, home. For the eagle, their nest is more of a platform.
Made of twigs and branches gathered from the beaches and fields, some weighing as much as 2000 pounds, there is nothing yielding or comfortable about them. But it is secure, from foxes, weasels, from island residents like me.
There are similar “nests” in Larsen Bay, at the cannery where we skiff in to get our mail, and where our salmon are delivered and processed. A supervisor there named Dexter prowls the beaches on his off hours. He gathers whatever can be found and creates singular chairs, benches, couches out of driftwood and found objects---trash washed off other shores, fallen from ships, the machinery of canneries gone extinct and fallen to the tides.
Like the eagle’s nests, the chairs are not soft and comfy---they’re solid, unyielding. You cannot sleepily drift off and imagine you are anywhere else warmer and less buggy---you will remain seated in place, knowing exactly and precisely where you are.
I think this what we must do. We all leave our first home one way or another. We set out again to make a place for ourselves in the world out of whatever is given to us. Sometimes all we have is what no one else wants, what drifts ashore, the leftovers. We built our island house on pilings washed up on the beach. Wherever we are, there is goodness and building materials around us. We can gather all that is good and make a home. It won’t be perfect. It may not even be entirely comfortable. But if we cannot find a way to make a home here in this given world, how will we find home in the next? The two are not so very far apart. We practice finding heaven here and now.
I remember this as I perch on the edge of my island, watching the eaglets in all their ugly glory, at rest, at home.
How have you “gathered home” in the place you live now?
(Disclaimer: For those who are worrying, I'm using a 300 zoom to photograph the eaglets, so that they're not even aware of my skulking presence.)