Part 1, A Pre-Eminent Sign – The Eagle
We’re back from our days hanging around the Minnesota North Shore and inland among forests and Boundary Waters. And although it doesn’t seem like we’ve been gone that long at all, things are very different.
You’ll remember we packed up and left for reasons of mental respite. We intended to take stock and envision how the next was going to take shape. And in and amongst the fun of exploring, enjoying traditional events in the Grands (Marais and Portage, along the shores of Lake Superior), and on the Trails and trails, we managed just that. I’m going to tell the stories about how everything all happened, but not all at once, because there is still very much to think about and sort out.
When we get up in those parts it’s a must to wander way back off the grid via primitive access just to see what we might encounter. Both of us had felt heavy with emotions and burdens of the psyche when we set out on this trip, but as the days passed the rawness began to wane.
A favorite spot of ours is a Forest Service helipad overlook high up over the Pigeon River, which forms the Minnesota Canadian border. This is one of several staging areas in Cook County for firefighters and their equipment to be flown and dropped in when the wilderness sets ablaze. The helipad excursion was something we could fit in before we headed up to the Grand Portage Rendezvous during the final weekend of our stay. Pete wanted to get a better shot of the view than he had last time and I was happy to go along to see as far as I could see.
Otter Lake Forestry Road rambles off the Arrowhead Trail past its namesake in an easterly direction toward the Grand Portage Indian Reservation, skirting Superior National Forest and Swamp River Wildlife Management Area. There’s a turn to the left after about 10 miles of this rambling, where you head north to the border and the helipad site. Fortunately, this turn-off is easily found. Continue too far east toward the Grand Portage Reservation line and you are admonished by posted threats; it’s a Federal offense to trespass on Indian lands without a permit.
It was a blustery morning, and the hot summer temperatures had blissfully cooled. The shadows of cloud formations raced ahead of us, dappling and bathing the world in light and shadow. New growth in these forests, appearing after events triggered by man and nature alike in the form of cutting and fire, tends to be dense. It can feel like a close embrace on either side of the Jeep.
There is the unmistakable tinkling music of branches, twigs and leaves brushing against your vehicle as you pass through. To me, this sound is as peaceful as a windchime or a carillon in the distance. I like to venture through these enclosed places with the window down and my arm resting lightly on its frame.
Somewhere before the turn northward we were traveling through such a place, filled with the brightness of the sun against the silver undersides of the leaves as they turned in the wind. We were coming upon a break in the young, dense woods: a clearing on either side. We slowed in anticipation, for in these types of places it’s easy to glimpse a critter or two.
Just as the Jeep’s hood crossed the line of the clearing, flying past in a slow-mo dream-like happenstance, an enormous bald eagle crossed our path. Within ten feet in front of us, and no higher than six feet off the ground – much closer than the video I found online to try and show you here. So close, we could hear the languid whooshing sound of his magnificent wingspan as it displaced the air. So close as to notice his puffy white-feathered legs with strong yellow talons that could have scratched the front grill or put out a headlight. So close as to arrest our breathing and beating hearts. The curve of his beak and a glimpse of a fierce eye. No more than three whooshes from right to left across our field of vision, and he was gone.
“Whoaaa,” said Pete.
Did that really just happen? We were frozen, motionless, pondering. Slowly we drove into the clearing, and looked in vain to see where the eagle had disappeared.
Now, we’ve both been fortunate to have seen bald eagles many times in the wild, soaring about over open land – even in the Twin Cities metro area, migrating down the Mississippi Flyway along Hawk Ridge in Duluth, nesting close to the Wuebker cabin on Woman Lake, and even on a caretaker’s leather-wrapped arm at the National Eagle Center. But never like this. This was such a magnificent experience that we took it for a sign. Of what, we had no idea.
It was glorious to gaze from the helipad, looking northward into Canada, watching cloud patterns shift and fade as they raced across miles of forests. This is the view I could imagine the eagle sees: a world filled with possibility, updrafts and downdrafts, alternating shadow and light, a world in which to survey, target, feast, perch and soar. My husband made the shot he had been waiting over a year to get and it was time to head on.
Our dear friend Hinda (who writes the Living Your Intention newsletter, which I heartily recommend), is a person who recognizes meaning in many things. When I told her the story of the eagle, and other signs we encountered, she said, “I will send you what I know about what it all means.” Hinda wrote to me quickly: “The Eagle: symbol of spiritual power and illumination; their energy is healing and aids in creation.”
The Ancients believed there is meaning to be derived when we encounter members of the animal kingdom, and the eagle symbolically appears across many beliefs and philosophies: The Eagle represents spiritual protection, carries prayers, and brings strength, courage, wisdom, illumination of spirit, healing, creation, and a knowledge of magic. The eagle has an ability to see hidden spiritual truths, rising above the material to see the spiritual. The eagle has an ability to see the overall pattern, and the connection to spirit guides and teachers. The eagle represents great power and balance, dignity with grace, a connection with higher truths, intuition and a creative spirit grace achieved through knowledge and hard work. – Eagle Spirit Ministry
We had come north seeking guidance and answers as we connected with nature, intending to look into our forever. It seems that this was acknowledged and affirmed.
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This is a beautiful story Betsy. I would like to share a similar story.
I traveled to Guatemala two years ago with friends and several members of their extended family. My mother had recently passed away and I found solace in the experience of traveling.
This family had adopted a daughter from Guatemala and were going back for a visit with everyone in tow. Both sets of grandparents accompanied the group.
Unfortunately, one of the grandfathers had pneumonia before he left the states and did not know it. He thought it was his allergies acting up. He got off of the first leg of the trip, in Dallas, in a wheelchair, not feeling well. He continued to Guatemala.
The short story is: he passed away in Guatemala. One of the adventures he had really wanted to join in on, was to climb Mt. Pacaya (yes, the volcano that recently erupted). Obviously, with his illness he didn’t participate in anything and we didn’t really get the chance to climb the volcano until after his passing.
There were only three of us left in Guatemala the day we went up. The others had gone home, but grandpa was still there in body and details had to be taken care of. I stayed with my friends.
I will never forget our ascent. I pooted out fairly quickly and hired a boy to lead me as I rode a horse up the mountain. When we got to the top, we were above the treeline. The mist lent a surreal quality to the landscape.
We spent quite a bit of time there, just soaking it all in. There were others far off in the distance, but it was pretty much the three of us and our guide, alone on this mountain. A bird began to circle around and around us, in the sky above. The guide remarked he had never seen a bird there, in all of his journeys up.
I told my friend, I believed this bird was his father. He was flying at the top of the mountain. His presence was real.
Thank you for reminding me of the unseen spirit in all life and the possibilities this brings to us.
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Jennifer – I agree with you. The bird you saw soaring above was no coincidence. What a story! I’m so glad you shared it here. Thank you.
Welcome back, Betsy… and Pete.
Sigh. I could *so* do a trip like this. I love your description of driving through the bush “the tinkling music of branches, twigs and leaves” — I LOVE taking drives through areas where it seems like no man has gone before. It’s in a way… kinda sacred.
Maybe that’s part of the symbology of the eagle you saw… representing your sacred journey. That eagle was incredible to see and great that you were able to capture it. The dogs certainly got excited by it, lol. It gave me the chills to watch. And so did that awesome photograph looking north into Canada. Shots like that, where you can feel yourself walking into them… wow, they just take my breath away.
Looking forward to reading, seeing and hearing more.
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Davina – You would have wanted to stay up there forever. You’re right about the feeling of being connected.
Just a quick clarification, I searched online for a video that came close to what we experienced, and the one I included was the only one I came up with. Our experience was much, much closer, and it traveled across our field of vision in the clearing with three flaps of its wings. Straight across and then it was gone, all in a matter of seconds (although it felt like slow motion). We were so stunned there wasn’t even the possibility of getting it on any camera. But I will never, ever forget it.
And yes, I think there is a sacred aspect to the experience, the place that we love, and our own journey. Much more to come as I get wrapped around it all. Thank you.
Thanks for the clarification. When I heard the dogs barking I was curious because I’d not thought you had dogs with you. That would have been an interesting trip 🙂
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Davina – Actually, we did have Little Daisy ™ with us, but she’s such a quiet little old pup now she slept through the entire thing in the back seat!
Well, gee whiz! I’m batting a thousand here, aren’t I? 8)
Judy Barnes says
Your writing does something to me that no one else can do… leave me speechless. I would love to see you write for a travel magazine or something. Just beautiful.
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Judy – Awww, shucks. Thank you and love you back. 🙂
One evening last summer Jer & I were kayaking on a reservoir near our house (in OH) when a bald eagle flew directly above us. What a thrill! We watched that bird fly out of sight and knew an ordinary evening had been forever changed. The bald eagle – amazing, majestic and just a bit magical. Sure beats watching tv, doesn’t it?
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Chris – Welcome to PassingThru! What a wonderful eagle experience for you, too! Definitely extraordinary. Thanks.
And just think…the further you get into Canada, the MORE emptier it gets.
PS. My truck is full of scratches from branches and twigs, too ! 🙂
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Friar – I know your truck must be banged up a bit from all your wilderness adventures. Whenever branches scrape against ours, I remember outings with my dad long ago, where we’d do the same thing. Only then with him it was in a Ford Galaxy or a ’49 Ford coupe. I was so little I couldn’t see well but the sound was great. 😀
Hi Betsy .. What an amazing experience .. it must have made a huge impression on you – at such a close range – fantastic sight. Your story of the Eagle being the spirit or soul .. and being with you .. was meant to be .. as it was for Jennifer and her story.
When I was in Africa .. I found the fish eagle to be amazing evocative for me .. and I heard this music back in the 80s and have never been able to forget it .. I hope you don’t mind – but I’ve put the link here & hope you’ll have a couple of minutes to watch the video and listen to Avril Kinsey play Mokoro (the Botswanan ‘canoes’ made out of whole tree trunks, that are punted/poled around the Okavango Swamps ..
Avril Kinsey Plays Mokoro
I am pleased the journey appears to have been therapeutic for the two of you .. and new things are on the horizon. I look forward to reading and seeing more pictures ..
It’s lovely having you back .. with thoughts and have a lovely weekend .. Hilary
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Hilary – What a lovely video, so dreamlike and the birds so magnificent. That last part emerging from the tall plants on either side is so reminiscent of what I felt in the woods, too. Amazing! Thank you.
Hi Betsy .. thanks – so pleased you enjoyed the video ..
The Bald Eagle and African Fish Eagle aren’t the same .. but swooshing eagles are just amazing to watch .. I’ve seen a few times in the Okavango Delta .. coming in to catch fish .. fantastic settings and just such wonderful creatures ..
Thanks – enjoy the weekend .. Hilary
Lori Hoeck says
Off the grid, nature’s beauty, and a swooshing eagle — ahhhhhh. Glad you both had such amazing experiences and vistas to refresh you.
@ Friar: We call the scratches from trees and bushes on our off-road vehicles “Colorado pinstriping.”
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Lori – We’re still taking stock, but definitely change is in the wind. It’s good to be back with a bit of a different point of view. You’re right, exhale slowly. 🙂