Monday, June 29, 2009

Eagle flew out of the night

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

Friday, June 19, 2009

A brief respite

I wasn't expecting to cry when I finally arrived in Colorado. But I'll admit it. I did. I came over the crest of the hill on westbound I-70 just past Deertrail and saw the Rockies, still tipped in cake icing snow, and tears welled into my eyes.

"Now I know it's true, my every road leads to you...."

Monday, June 15, 2009


There are times when you must, as they say, "move on." Times when you must make a next step, or else be eternally held back by your decision. Now is one of those times.
I will be leaving Tennessee. Perhaps not for good, but I am leaving.

I will not miss the stench of stagnant water by the pond, or the battalions of biting insects. I will not miss the humidity and the heat, which, when compounded, give you the feeling of constant sweat. I will not miss the ladybug infestation every spring, or the ticks every summer. I will not miss the long weeks of late winter when it rains incessantly, and your clothes will not dry. I will not miss the local "Mexican" or "Chinese" food. I will not miss the lack of culture. I will not miss the ubiquitous usage of the terms "fixin to" or "yall," neither of which are legitimate. I will not miss the "country" accent, or the tendency to end all sentences with prepositions: "where the kids at?" or "that's the lake the big fish'r in." I will not miss the selfish, legalistic and narrow-minded Baptist theology. I will not miss the selfish, legalistic and narrow-minded Baptists (though not all of them are like this). I will not miss the drug deals and idiot drivers outside my apartment. I will not miss the lack of sidewalks or basic city planning.
But I will miss the wildlife - the deer, the blackbirds and cardinals and mockingbirds and thrushes and waxwings, the osprey and even the skunks. I will miss the late-evening softball games under the lights and the miniature pies in the cafeteria every Friday. I will miss swimming in the river near Wartburg and the flowers along the trails in Frozen Head or the Smokies. I will miss the companionship of my colleagues at work, all of whom are wonderful people. I will miss Dan's reason and Brian's commendable drinking talent ("POW!"). I will miss the surrogate family I have in the church, and the many friends I have made there. I will miss staying out long enough to close down the Buffalo Grille with Steve and Coach, discussing the kinds of theologies which would get one tarred and feathered while Kelly or Teresa brought us another round of beers. I will miss the Seriously Southwest with buffalo. I will miss attending the opera and the symphony with Mik (next season was set to be much better than the last), and the old movies at the Tennessee with Bailey and Sara. I will miss Teddy's humor, Bill's "naivete," Andy's laugh, Kathy's cooking and MC's optimism. I will miss all of you.

It is with a heavy heart that I go. To all of you who made this place special, I thank you, and will remember you always.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


When a firefly hits your car windshield, the "fire" continues to glow for several seconds, embers of the life that just ended. It is a strange and bittersweet thing to behold (bitter for the right brain, sweet for the left).
So how long do we continue to glow once our earthly bodies are gone? Do we, like the firefly, last only a few brief moments before disappearing completely? Or does the human spirit, the fire within us, have staying power? Years from now, are we forgotten, faded from our former glory, or does our light still shine as it did in life? Does it shine more brightly for being released from the burden of a physical body? Should we wish for it to glow, or to cease - is it truly "better to burn out than to fade away," as the song suggests?
If I know nothing else, I know this one thing: true religion is the inspiration that allows a few simple, directionless chemical processes to be imbued with a much greater worth.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Useful things

If you buy enough lunchmeat, you'll never need to purchase tupperware.

Forgiveness benefits the person doing the forgiving more than the person being forgiven.

Fox News has never been "fair and balanced."

There may be no discernible difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $40 bottle of wine, but you can always tell the difference between a $10 haircut and a $40 haircut.

A balanced diet, correct portions, and moderate activity are the only truly successful weight-loss supplements.

Jeans can be worn more than once, so long as you do nothing excessively dirty.

An addiction to caffeine could cost you $2500 a year.

Television cannot substitute for parenting, nor can school.

No matter what your views on death and an afterlife, we are all here together now, and we have to behave appropriately.

Garnier Fructis shampoos actually do work, very well.

Where you were born should have no bearing on your philosophy of life; you should choose to be where you are, because it fits you and you, it.

Exit row seats on planes are like business class for those of us too poor for business class.