Monday, October 01, 2007


An October Moment...

(Don't know what an October Moment is? Details here.)

My Dad was a bird-watcher. In a corner of the living room of his house, there's an old window with a view of the crab-apple tree, the collapsed stone fence in front of it, and the bird-feeders my parents kept filled nearby. On a desk right by the window, my Dad always kept one or two bird books to identify the birds he'd seen. He got Thomas a bird-book too and together they used to trade phone calls and the occasional e-mail filling each other in on what birds they'd lately spotted.

Thomas was always jealous of my Dad's bird-identifying prowess, but my Dad was jealous of Thomas, too, because where we live there are an abundance of raptors, my Dad's favorite type of bird. We see hawks of every kind, kestrels, like that. But one shared ambition they had was to spot an eagle. Thomas had never seen one, and it had been years since my Dad had seen one. The hell of it was, some eagles had been spotted flying over the little town where my Dad lived, but he had never managed to catch a glimpse himself. "Next time you come for a visit," he told Thomas, "we'll go birding and we'll both get to see an eagle."

Alas, the next time Thomas visited, it was to bury his grandparents.

My family stayed at a hotel during the funeral, but there was one afternoon when the kids came out to the house. Of them all, Thomas was the grandchild most affected by my parents' death, and the shock of it really hit him walking into that empty house. He paused for a while by the corner of the living room, looking out the old window, toward the crab-apple tree. There were no birds out there. Thomas idly thumbed through my Dad's Sibley guide and out fell a list of all the birds my Dad had seen that year--no eagles, but there was quite an assortment on there--grackles and nuthatches and what-not. There were even a few Dad had seen the week before his death and had never gotten around to telling his grandson. Thomas showed me the list and asked if he could have it and my Dad's bird book (and so now he does).

It was a glorious early May day, sunny, windy, cool, and eventually no one could bear to be in the house--except me. I was on the computer, printing out photos to paste onto poster board for display at the memorial service. Then I heard Thomas shout, "DAD!! Get out here!" I looked up and caught a glimpse of my brother moving vigorously past one of the windows. My brother doesn't run for anything, so I assumed something was wrong.

When I got outside, Thomas was standing on the picnic table out in front of the house, pointing into the sky and shouting. My brother hustled back from his truck, where he had just retrieved his binoculars. "I don't fucking believe it," he muttered to himself.

"What is it?" I asked, squinting into the bright sky.

"It's an eagle!" Thomas shouted.

"Actually, it's two eagles," my brother said, as he peered through the binoculars.

"Where?" I asked, squinting.

"There! Right over the house!!" Thomas pointed excitedly, indicating about a thousand cubic miles of sky. "I see the other one!"

I looked. Nothing. Unlike my son, I have the worst eyesight in my family, and on countless nature trips growing up, I was the despair of my Dad, who was forever gazing off into the distance and spotting bears or moose or Bigfoot, for all I could see. Then he'd spend a half-hour with me, trying to direct me to a fixed landmark and then giving me coordinates to find the thing he'd spotted--at 12 o'clock or 1 o'clock or whatever o'clock from whatever the fixed item was. Sometimes it worked, but often it was fruitless. I would have given just about anything to have him at my side at that moment, directing me, helping me to see the eagles.

"Look at the top of the maple," my brother advised, almost as if he'd been reading my thoughts. "One of em's at 2 o'clock from the top of the tree."

I peered and squinted and bobbed my head this way and that. Nothing.

"Oh for Christ's sake, you look like a nearsighted turkey. Here!" my brother finally said, shoving the binoculars at me.

I fiddled with knobs and readjusted my glasses and even climbed atop the picnic table. All I could see was magnified patches of blue and white.

"Can you still see them?" I asked Thomas.

"Of course!" he shouted. "They're right there!"

But after about five minutes--and long after my brother lost sight of them, Thomas finally announced that they had disappeared behind a low-hanging cloud. Back in the house, he ran to his grandfather's list and wrote "EAGLE--2" in his big looping script.

Actually, quite a few people in town saw the eagles that day. It was unusual to see a pair of them like that, and there was some comment on it later.

Thomas and my brother still talk about those eagles.

But I never saw them.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

An October Moment! What a lovely surprise on a lovely Autumn day!

Touching story, MM... I'm so glad that Thomas got to see his eagles. His grandpa kept his word. Thomas is never going to forget that.
that gave me chills..
Bets October Moment yet. And I'm very sorry you didn't see them.
They weren't there for you....
Beautiful moment. :)

My dad comes around, still, in the form of unusual-for-circumstance bird sightings. My 14 year-old is a birder like Grandpa, too.
Nice story, MM. Thanks for sharing. As with all your October moments, it really made me think.
I second Dan in the comments. The birds were there for Thomas. Grandpa (and Grandma it seems) were just saying "hey there. We miss you and will always be with you."

That was simply a beautiful story.
That made me cry... It is a beautiful story.

I saw an eagle catch a fish in Crosslake, MN on the 4 July weekend this year. It was amazing.
Bawling in my coffee.

What a very special & wonderful gift for Thomas.

Remember, there are no coincidences.
They say there are Eagles about 5 miles from my house (north central Iowa), but I've never seen any there.

Times like that make you realize that people you love never really leave your heart.
I walked out of my house today and saw a hawk (most likley a Cooper's hawk)
swooping across my yard less than 10 feet rom the ground.

We have lots of hawks here but I'd never seen one so close.

so if there are no coincidences what does it mean?
Tears in my coffee. What a special gift for Thomas.
My great grandfather passed away two years ago next month at 91 (yeah, great grandfather - the combo of being in a Polish Catholic family where we live a long time and they had kids young).

When we were standing outside the funeral home, we saw a bald eagle. It was the first I'd ever seen - although there are apparently a few in Michigan.

I wonder what it represents?
Amazing story.

They were definitely there for Thomas...
MM, your October moments don't usually make me cry...
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