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Courage, Hope and a Miracle During COVID

(Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner)

Twilight. Such a magical, mystical word and time. As a lifelong night owl, it's my favorite part of the day. It's when the sun starts to descend, casting a golden glow over the tall grasses and shines on the hills surrounding my neighborhood. Birds begin their final chatter for the night. The sky fades from amber to rose and purple, creating a colorful canvas against the dramatic heritage oak trees. It's when I go to them. I walk the short distance from my home to the trail lined with purple wildflowers in the Spring. Black butterflies, which emerge from their cocoons when the wildflowers bloom, fly alongside me as I make my way down the dirt path.

Photo by Judy Farah

(Photo by Judy Farah of her trail)

They first appeared on an Easter Sunday four years ago. The skies on the bluffs above the American River where I live are typically filled with turkey vultures and the occasional red-tailed hawks. But on that Easter Sunday, I saw a creature with massive wings and crown of white on its head. Could it be? It was a bald eagle, and I was thrilled. It was on my bucket list to see an eagle fly in the wild (maybe it was that John Denver song.) I thought I'd have to go to Oregon or Alaska to see them but here, on my street, there was one flying right over my head!

Mama and Papa Bald decided to make my trail their home that year and built a huge nest in a leaning pine tree that hung over the lake, perfect for hunting food below. That year we were beyond thrilled to welcome two baby eaglets to the neighborhood. They were our secret, our special new neighbors and we protected them. Two more sets of eaglets were born in the two years after that but this year, in the oddest of years in our lifetime, we got a much-needed surprise. Two more eaglets were born as usual, but after a few days, we were shocked to see a third eaglet for the first time! Carmichael nature photographer Susan Maxwell Skinner, who has been chronicling the eagles for all four years, appropriately named them Courage, Hope and the unexpected third eaglet: Miracle.

"Because they have three ravenous mouths to feed this year, Mama and Papa are more frequently hunting," Skinner said in a Facebook post.

In a world tossed upside down with a worldwide pandemic that dominates the news cycle, my neighbors and I have an escape from the fear. In April, I stayed in my home eleven days straight during the peak of the pandemic. My daily escape was the bluffs and the eagles. They were a respite for many others as well. Families with young children, elderly couples arm in arm, joggers, cyclists and walkers gathered on the bluffs to watch these wonderful creations. One recent evening at dusk, a small group of us just stood still for 45 minutes as we watched Papa Bald flying back and forth to the nest from the lake below, bringing back food to the hungry, happy squealing babies.

There is no talk of COVID. Even with masks, people smile and gasp when they see the majestic mighty birds of prey in flight. In this year of 2020 we've seen the three grow from tiny chicks to growing juveniles who are starting to flex their wings on the rim of the nest, strengthening them for their first flight at 12 weeks old. We watch in awe. And wonder. We can't believe how lucky and blessed we are to have these magnificent creatures right in our backyard for our enjoyment. And as a distraction from our daily, sometimes anxious lives.

(Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner)

Eventually, as night falls, we walk back to our homes and reality and try not to watch the news so we don't lose the splendor we've just experienced. On Saturday night, two owls flew together while a flock of eight geese squawked as they flew above me. While the world continues to seemingly spin out of control, when everything that was once normal isn't normal anymore, there is one constant. Susan Skinner knows it best.

"In such dire times, could our national birds have produced a sweeter gift," she says, noting that while our lives have changed, it hasn't for the creatures among us.

"In nature," she said, "Life goes on."

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