A couple of weeks ago, we were up in Door County for the first official national Indigenous Peoples Day weekend. (Side note: For 60 years, I’ve called this holiday Columbus Day. It might take some effort to recalibrate my mind, to change my language, but it’s worth it to me to be thoughtful and careful about what we call days and people and all sorts of other things.)
Our friends have a home there on the Door County shores of Lake Michigan. We have been fortunate to be able to visit there often for over 30 years. Time slows down while we sit on the deck watching the waves, while we walk the beach, while we read in the gazebo high up on the dune, while we play Scrabble with a view.
In recent years, a pair of bald eagles have been visiting this spot too. They hang out in a tree on the point where the beach juts out into the lake. They fascinate me. They’re huge and graceful and silent as they soar by us. From their perch high up in their tree, they watch the waves, they scan the beach and water for a meal, and I imagine they enjoy the view too.
To celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, Parker Palmer, an author I admire, shared this Eagle Poem by Joy Harjo, the U.S. poet laureate and a Native American. It was a perfect reading for me on that day when I was up close and personal to eagles and to the blessings of sky and beach and lake. The poem spoke to my heart on that day and continues to reach out to me.
As I was sipping tea on the deck one morning, the eagle flew up the beach in front of me and I managed to take this rather blurry snapshot. The blurriness can’t diminish the beauty or gloriousness of the moment in my memory.
One night that weekend, our host was grilling dinner out on the deck and some of us – including a feisty French bulldog puppy named Sunny – were out there with him enjoying the evening. All of a sudden, with a great whooshing sound of wings, a huge owl swooped down and over the assembly and settled onto the beach pine below us. We wondered if the owl thought Sunny would be perfect for his own dinner.
Once again I took another blurry snapshot. I know you can’t see it in the picture, but I’m telling you that our owl visitor is sitting atop this tree:
As Mary Oliver instructs above about the circle of life — the owl and its prey: “What we must do, I suppose, is to hope the world keeps its balance” — but we also know that Sunny’s people have become extra vigilant and will protect the “soft life” of our pleasantly plump puppy pal from becoming an owl meal. What would we have done with our hearts if Sunny had been snatched up by that owl?
And now I circle back to Joy Harjo’s Eagle Poem and its “circle of motion” imagery.
On one of our beach walks that weekend, John spied an interesting phenomenon. Perfect windswept circles had been formed in the sand around clumps of beach grass. I snapped a photo.
And I did a little research. These circles of motion are called “scratch circles” or “scharrkreise” which in German literally mean “scrape circles”. They are formed when plants on sandy shores are flattened by a steady wind. The plants are moved around and around by the wind and because their roots are a fixed point, they end up working like a compass to create circles in the sand.
This phenomenon evokes a prayer, doesn’t it? Like the beach grass, may we be firmly grounded so that even though sometimes we are knocked off balance and flattened by the ravages of life, we may work to see and create circles of motion to bless our world.
“Poems live out on the windy beach in sand patterns drawn by tides and gusts” ~Lauren Daley