Duncan walked in the front door. “One of the eaglets is dead,” he announced dramatically.
“What? Are you sure?" I looked up from the table. "You were out there just now?”
“Yeah, I was there by the trail and one of them’s outside the nest lying there dead.”
I examined his face, as if his expression would explain the loss, then sighed, thinking of all of you rooting for these eaglets, even if they are no long cute or fuzzy.
“Well,” I shook my head, “ there it is: 'nature red in tooth and claw.' I wonder if the other eaglet killed it competing for food . …”.
I grabbed my camera, put on my hiking boots, all other plans dropped.
My first glimpse of the nest, I gaped. I hadn't seen them for a week.
They were massive. Their black juvenile feathers had come in. They were in what I call the pterodactyl stage. But I knew almost immediately the second eaglet was not dead, though it was indeed collapsed in the posture of something expired. They always looked this way. When they were resting and digesting, they always looked like a bag of bones and fluff and quills crumpled and tossed to the cliff. I just walked to another cliff for a better angle.
Ah! Maddie and Calvin, alive and thriving! But Duncan did not know. He had not been watching them from the opposite cliff all summer as I had. He did not know them as I did.
But how much knowledge of this island can I claim? Earlier this week, I discovered again how little I know about this island, about myself, about names, about God.
A botanist and her husband came to the island for a day. Not just any botanist, but the one who wrote the book, literally, on flora on Kodiak Island.
Stacy knows everything. I brought her to one of our many meadows thick with flowers and proudly gestured at its beauty. She gasped, “This is dreamy. There are very few places like this on Kodiak Island.” And it began there, hours of hiking in fields, hillsides, beaches, cliffs and meadows photographing, cataloging.
Under her tutelage, I found out how little I knew. I could rattle off twenty flowers at my feet, but I had missed the best ones. Stacy showed me moonwarts, frog orchids, valerian, kinnikinnick. I discovered that all these years I had mistaken frog orchids for bog orchids. I never saw the moonworts, which were startlingly dense, Stacy said, on this hillside. The chocolate lily, the old standby, did I know why it stank like rotting meat? To attract its pollinators----flies, she said, not bees.
She could name every grass and sedge and blossom and knew the how and why and when of its life. Under her eyes and words, my island spoke new words back to me.
That night, storm clouds blackened the sky as the setting midnight sun pried its last light through---and the flowers in the meadow, the ones whose names I had just learned, flamed like torches . ….
We are still doing Eden work, all of us, dressing and naming what lies in the After-Eden wilds and gardens we all inhabit. But even after so many years, how do we still get it wrong? I can still name and identify the most familiar things wrongly. It only starts with the flowers. I named myself “victim” for too long. I named myself “unworthy” and “invisible” for too long. And I have done the opposite: named myself "faithful" when I was not. Named myself "truth-teller" when I did not tell the whole truth. And I have identified others by the wrong names as well. Too many others.
We all live among such beauty and confusion. We think we know our own island. We think we know ourselves and each other. We think we know the flowers and the eagles. And then the botanist comes, the painter comes, the poet comes, the evening sun comes, a storm comes, God comes and suddenly all we thought we knew is shot to heaven and back. We stand, gaping. We are ashamed, but only for a moment. The recognition of our ignorance does its own cleansing: Look how much more there is! Look how vast the world beneath our feet! Look how wonderfully small we are!
And then we praise.
I praise the God of stinky chocolate lilies and moonworts. I praise the God who names me yet, in all my ignorance and stink, “beloved;” who walks among the fields and lights us like torches with our true names:
Do you hear your truest name?
How do I choose among so many good people who want a taste of this island? One way: the wet-foot-in-boot way. And five names came up gasping for air out of my stinky boot. Here they are: Linda Chontos, (red shoes)Pat, Paula Ibach, and Ingrid . Would you ladies send me your mailing address and I’ll get some sweets and a book off to you, with pleasure!