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In Our Own Backyard...Seize the moment

Last Sunday dawned clear and bright, and my husband and I awoke uncustomarily early. The rising sun was reflecting on the tree trunks of the red pine outside our window, and the birds were singing their morning songs in full-throated chorus. I could hear the hummingbirds whirring busily on the feeder just off our bedroom deck, and the soft morning air drifted through the open windows. It simply felt like summer, and we could sleep no longer.

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We settled in with coffee and breakfast and lazily read through the Sunday paper, much the same as we always do.

Something caught my eye in the Outdoors section, a quote by the late environmentalist Sigurd Olson: "…when one finally reaches the point where days are governed by daylight and dark…where one eats if hungry and sleeps when tired…when one finally arrives at the point where schedules are forgotten…and becomes completely immersed in the ancient rhythms, then one begins to live."

I read it aloud to my husband, and we both pondered it for a while.

"I think since it's so nice outside, and we got up so early, I'm going to go for a bike ride before church," Ken said.

I peered out at the lake, which was flat and still and absolutely amazing.

"I think I'm going to go out for a paddle in my kayak!" I added.

We both sprang into action, feeling more than a little adventurous heading out so early in the morning.

I made myself a thermos of coffee, grabbed my camera and headed for the lake. It had been quite some time since I'd been on the lake at this hour, and every sense seemed to be alive. I could smell the scent of laborador tea from a nearby bog. I heard the wingbeat of the dragon flies as they fired up for the morning (hopefully to breakfast on mosquitoes!). The water of the lake felt surprisingly mild as I dragged my fingertips in it. And the first thing I spotted was one a solo loon, who suddenly surfaced from beneath the water not far off the bow of my kayak. I knew by the time I dragged my camera out the elusive bird would be gone once again, so I sat very still and watched as water dripped off its beak. It spent a few moments preening itself before launching into an extended dive that took it a quarter mile down the lake.

The water was so still I felt as though my kayak was soaring with every paddle stroke. Before I knew it I was even with the one small island in our lake, and I paddled as silently as I could to see if the other half of the loon pair was sitting on her nest yet. And sure enough, I spotted her bright checkerboard collar through the reeds at the very tip of the island. I snapped one quick picture and I saw her head go up as if on sudden alert, so I paddled off in the opposite direction at a respectful distance, so as not to scare her off the nest. My heart was soaring, however, because it's been three years since our pair of loons has successfully hatched a chick! Maybe this would be the year...

I found I was enjoying this time of morning more and more. The jet skis and the water-skiers and the giant wake boat that often ply the water on fine summer afternoons were nowhere to be seen, and the lake was mine! As I paddled away from the island, I saw a black form in the top of a tree across the lake. On a hunch, I paddled in that direction. My instincts prove to be correct — an American eagle was sitting in the treetop, his feathers spread out from a recent dive in the lake, drying in the morning sun.

I paddled in quietly as closely as I could, hoping to catch some good close-up shots of the big bird. Somehow, no matter how often I see them, I never cease to be amazed at the sight of an eagle. I snugged my kayak into a little inlet almost directly beneath the tree where the eagle sat. He didn't seem particularly interested in me, so I had the luxury of photographing him at will.

Finally, I put my camera away, poured myself a cup of coffee and just sat and watched him. His head rotated from one side to the other and almost completely around behind him in owl-like fashion. He seemed to be watching and waiting for something.

And when he finally made his move and lifted up off the branch, a strange thing happened. The loons immediately began to call their alarm from opposite ends of the lake, and a school of about 30 little fish hit the surface in unison as they flitted away in terror. The eagle merely soared away, rising higher and higher on the wind currents, until he was so high in the air I could barely see him. It was as though he, too, was bent on "immersing himself in the ancient rhythms."

I checked my watch and realized I'd better head back to shore if we were going to make it to church on time. Somehow, I felt almost as if I'd already been….