I've been in Vancouver all week for an experiment. After a pleasant trip for drinks and dinner on the patio at Brown's with my colleagues, and yet another beer consumed while in lounge chairs in the lobby of the guest house, I was feeling rather sleepy and decided to head upstairs to my room. I felt exhausted - we had been working practically nonstop since I arrived last Monday - but, as I stood there in my pajamas, watching out the window onto the woods beyond, something stirred me. I was compelled to go outside.
I had been for several long, meandering walks while I was here. It is my habit while on the UBC campus. But tonight I was so tired, and yet I could not sit still. I had to be outside. Knowing I had only half an hour of daylight left, I threw on a light jacket, pulled on my jeans and shoes, and stepped out into the fading sun.
I walked with purpose. The purpose was unknown to me, but I walked west down Thunderbird, past the Lower Mall, down streets which felt familiar but I did not consciously know. I walked as though I knew where I was going. Suddenly, through the trees and the campus buildings on either side, my destination became starkly apparent as it opened to my view. The cliffs. I was at the trailhead to Wreck Beach.
I took a few photos in the dim light, remembering my first trek down the winding dirt trail to the beach, the warm sand and the cold water, Vancouver Island in the hazy distance. Then I heard something which struck me to my very heart. It was a sound I will always recognize, a friendly, chuckling chirp from high above in the trees. I looked up to be greeted by what I already knew was there: a bald eagle.
He was rustling about in the bare branches of a gigantic tree; his head and tail nearly shone with light against the darkness of his body. He alighted, powerful wings pushing the air, and circled a few times before coming to rest on another limb to the north. There was something utterly amazing about the whole thing. I was alone, despite the buildings and the parking lot and the roads, and he was with me, watching over me, chuckling to me in his bird-laugh. "I knew you'd come," I could hear him saying. "I remember," I replied.
The last time I was in Vancouver, many years ago, I awoke one night in my room at the old guest house to a sound I only recognized from nature shows. Outside my window, an eagle rustled his feathers and cackled quietly, as though speaking to only me, hushed so as not to wake others. I knew at the time - knowing in the intrinsic, internal and "illogical" way - that he was there for me, to show me something important. I know now that tonight was no different. I was reminded of the same lyrics that I heard in my head that first time:
"Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city lights
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing, stretching every nerve
Had to listen, had no choice
I did not believe the information
I just have to trust imagination
My heart going boom, boom, boom
Son, he said, grab your things, I've come to take you home...." - Peter Gabriel
2 days ago