Boot Winners, a Dead Eaglet? + Why I Know Nothing

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: 















Yes, the flowers of the field shall all wither and pass, Isaiah tells us. I know, I see it in the mirror,  but the word of the Lord, and the names He has spoken over us will live forever. 


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! 

Stormy Crossing, The Last Place We Look for Beauty

                                 (Photo by Wallace Fields)

Two summers ago, I was scared before the skiff even launched. The NE wind had come down. It had been blowing 40 mph, ripping the ocean to white, but now it was probably down to 30 mph. I hadn’t run a skiff yet that season. So this was my first run, in these shuddering seas? 

I was fully dressed, as we always are when we step into a skiff: I was wearing full commercial grade raingear, a life jacket, a hat, my fishing boots, but I forgot my gloves. My hands were already so cold it wouldn’t matter when they got wet.

And they did get wet. As did the rest of me, even through the small opening at my neck. We all stand in our open skiffs when we travel to see over the bow. Like lightening rods, the water finds us first. Whole sheets of water pelted me as I rose and fell in the swells, my knees braced against the seat in front of me to stay upright, my arm on the tiller. Gasping for air between waves, I quartered my way from one island to another.

I have made this crossing many times and been out in storms far worse. I was not terribly afraid once I left shore---I was mostly awake, all of me. What I saw! The deep blue heaves and lifts me like breath; the whitecaps under the wind are my gasps. The grey clouds that sweep the mountains and troughs, spilling their water, and the sun that breaks between them, lighting the fires . . . All this exploding in water and howl of wind and motor, eyes blinded by the force of so much being and existence. . .


And more astonishing, even this on the island I just left. That island is a working island where everyone is head-down on task, where there is no shelter from the wind, where the nets are splayed across the grass, and the island is covered in tractor-roads. 

Our island too is a working island, where nets and tractors, skiffs and machines cover grass and beach.

This day of mending net in the wind, it was hard to speak to anyone and I was cold and wet ---but what I saw! Let me tell you about the colors of this work! The colors of all this gear on land before it is dropped into the sea to catch fish.

Let me tell you about the blue-green nets and the yellow corks and the pink buoys and the endless coils of line ready to do their work for us.

 Let me tell you about yellow and orange raingear hanging in the gear shed waiting for the bodies to give them life and the rusty anchors sunk in sand to hold our boats. 

Courage lives here, and endurance, and a brotherhood of fishermen. But can you believe that beauty lives here as well, even when it is not intended or sought?

“We walk by faith, not by sight,” we often quote, but just as often, it is our sight that awakens our faith. Even when we do not intend it, in our busiest hardest labor, beauty and order and color emerges from our hand and pours forth speech that brings praise out of silence---for those who see it. 

I see it. I hear it. I am sure you do as well. Even here: 

                                  (Photo by Tamie Harkins)

Where do you see strange beauty in your world?

Praise Him, the Father of All Beauty and Good,

Who can be found in storm and sea,

Who can be seen in the work of ordinary, tired hands,

Who yet will be praised

By babes and fishermen and women late

at the sink or deep in the soil:

Praise Him for bringing Loveliness out of our 

commonest Labors.


And, I do not forget the eaglets, Calvin and Maddie (as named by my youngest sons), who have doubled in size. Here, too, is strange beauty forged from odd feathers and dinosaur faces. Here, too, we watch and praise . … 

Look! I can almost fly!

Praise Him.