"And now we welcome the New Year. Full of things that have never been." — Rilke
The temperatures have dipped into the negative teens these last few days in Maine. With wet hair, I walked briefly outside this morning and within moments felt my hair stiffen into frozen, wavy strands. I ran my fingers along the rigid tresses, grabbing little sections into my still-warm palm, melting the ice crystals and making it soft again.
Before that I had been sweaty and warm practicing eagle pose in a heated yoga studio. It is a paradoxical posture that requires a twisting of both arms and legs around each other within a balancing framework and somehow has the affect of unwinding the mind. All wound up like that—gazing intently at the striped towel on the mat in front of me and arriving in a steady stance—an unexpected sense of freedom came over me. I wanted to stay right there in that tangled place.
It was as if I had been transported within myself to a precipice, ready to fly.
The roads are dusty with the disintegrating sand and salt leftover from the recent storm. The wind gusts and ribbons of snow are whisked from the drifts and cast thinly through the air—like ghosts. Back windshields of cars are hard to see through this time of year but I glimpse in one the outline of a dog frolicking about. I can see his silhouette jumping—joyful. I wish I could gather him up into my arms in an embrace.
On a dresser in our front hallway there is a stack of feathers that we’ve collected at beaches and in fields, state parks and along dirt roads. I often take them in as I pass by to go upstairs. There is one particular feather that I am most drawn to that was spotted and picked up last summer by my younger son, Adrian. Lagging behind he discovered it and just afterward fell into the mud.
The feather is long with a sturdy quill and distinct black and white markings. When I walk by, I sometimes realign it into its prettiest position.
I noticed it wasn’t on the dresser and asked if anyone had seen it. Adrian said he had been playing with it because it was his and recounted the story of how he had discovered it on his own and then ended up holding it above him in the air, safe from the mud.
I later found it among the copious Legos on the ledge by the fireplace. Our living room is strewn with these genius, rectangular modules that have my children in their grasp. The dining table is covered as well in torn papers and colorful palettes, my own obsession underway. It’s like a storm has blown through our house leaving a slew of multicolored design materials cast about in its wake.
It is an exquisite looking feather—one that might have been used as a quill pen in another era. I wanted to preserve it and saw that Adrian had been running this fingers up and down it creating greater space between the barbs. He liked the feel of it and I tried to imagine how he had managed to take it from the dresser. He must have been high up on his toes or maybe he climbed up on a chair to reach it.
We had never thought to study its markings and learn where it came from. Its size suggested that it belonged to a large bird—perhaps a bird of prey. Adrian’s original guess was that it had belonged to an osprey. We began researching various feathers and initially it seemed like it could have belonged to any of a group of larger birds; osprey, peregrine falcon, eagle or even a turkey.
Upon deeper inspection, we began to recognize the subtleties of its makeup. My older son Jonah insisted quickly that the feather belonged to an eagle based on what he saw. Adrian was more studied in his approach and wanted to take his time with deciding.
I was reminded of my own natural tendency to rely heavily on instinct and inner-knowing as the compass that guides me and also how making space for deeper observation and contemplation has confirmed what I know to be true.
The first time we saw the bald eagle out back it was a barefoot day—vastly different from today’s bitter chill. Jonah spotted it first and called out with elation as it swooped over the tallest pines and we caught intermittent glimpses of the wide wingspan through the branches.
We ran down to the dock—breathless in our excitement—as it swooped majestically through the clear, summer sky over the water. It seemed so near. We could fully make out its yellow beak and the distinctive white feathers of its head. After that we began cutting out the images of bald eagles from magazines and wildlife calendars and adopting them as significant to us.
In the years since, a large nest has appeared in a distant, mighty pine that sits on a point of land that juts out into the water at a diagonal from our dock. I often gaze out to that spot at dawn in meditation.
Though clearly having settled near us, we only rarely get a chance to experience the ravishing display of these stunning beasts. Their presence has grown more common in this area once again, yet their impression remains momentous.
My alarm chimes before the sun has risen. It is still dark out, the bed cozy. I don’t always want to get up. I always do. I pull on my layers and drift down the hallway noticing the moon spreading a glow across the yard, enhanced in these months by the reflection of snow.
Jonah and Adrian’s room is right at the top of the stairway where we still have a baby gate installed. I lock the gate at night as a precaution because of my own experience as a sleepwalking child. I once awakened alone in the garage of my childhood home and fear that Adrian has the same tendency. Once I found him sitting at the top of the stairs with his eyes open—but clearly asleep.
Sometimes I open the gate quietly to pass through in these dawn hours. Other times—feeling nimble—I silently climb over it like a robber in wool socks. As I pass by their room and navigate the gate, I am careful not to think of them—especially Adrian. If I do—our hearts so intertwined—they will awaken.
I have roughly one hour before their door will crack open and the stairs will creak and they will sleepily make their way down in their striped pajama bottoms.
I soak in the quiet like an elixir. I allow the parts of me that are not associated with my identity to expand like a vast wave wiping out the various contractions that this world—and I—have placed upon myself.
I nudge judgment out and wrap myself up instead in the tender arms of acceptance.
Their entrance is a signal for the practice to end and the application to begin. In their purity in these peaceful moments, they make it easy. I might forget throughout the day but I always come back to seeing them for what they are in their somnolent innocence.
They approach me in such different ways.
Adrian—the earlier riser—climbs and cuddles into my lap, still half-asleep, pushing my journal away. Despite his desire to keep resting, he can’t help himself and begins talking, peeling his eyes open and blinking away the sleep. He has a distinct smell when he’s just awakened—like cookies. I breathe deeply taking him in and smile at his rapid speech—like his words are running to keep up with his thoughts.
Jonah approaches more quietly and tucks himself in next to me. I take in his cherubic face trying not to break the silence. There is much to be said between us in the quiet.
Often our collective gaze turns outward toward the wall of windowed doors that look out at our tucked away cove revealing a constant state of change. We might comment on what we see—glimpses of color in the morning sky, a glow lining the tops of trees in the distance, a boat or swimmer or clammer.
In the fall we were nested together in this way on the couch when suddenly—like a scene from a nature program— a bald eagle swooped down across the water and dove for an unassuming duck floating on the still water. We all jumped to attention entranced by the unexpected scene. Adrian ran and got his little chair and pulled it up by the glass doors.
Frantic, the duck managed to completely submerge itself and dodge the eagle’s grasp.
The eagle retreated up into the sky for a moment and as soon as the duck reemerged, it dove down again fiercely. It was another near miss for the duck. We watched as the eagle flew back to its nest wondering whether it was lying in wait or had given up.
We sat for a long time in anticipation of the continuation of the saga. We hadn’t chosen sides. We only wanted to see what would happen.
The duck disappeared for a little while and finally we saw it pop up in another spot entirely. The eagle had seen it too—immediately—and came lunging toward it.
Amazingly the duck got away once again and the eagle retreated back up to its nest. We stared out into the bay for another long stretch wondering what might happen next but the drama never did resume.
I was sitting by the fire when Adrian came up behind me and tucked the feather into the back of my ponytail. I reached my hand around to feel it and make sure it was secure. I ran my fingers gently along the barbs.
A little while later, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and noticed it poking out like a simple headdress.
I removed it and placed it on another table—now upstairs— along with a collection of other precious finds—smooth oval stones and large, powder pink ribbed seashells.
I arranged it out in front of the other treasures—in that pretty way again—and headed back downstairs where the rooms are full of so many things yet to be made.