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Nature is at its finest unplugged

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this weekend.

The Presidents’ Day holiday weekend, while long, was not very relaxing. In fact, for my family it was actually a lot of work.

We finally moved into our new house, permanently I’d like to tell you that the house is all finished (not quite). However, we can make do until the smaller details are complete.

Anyone who has ever built a house or renovated one could probably tell a tale or two about something that went wrong. If you ever see me out in town, buy me a drink and maybe I’ll loosen up enough to tell you a few stories without breaking down in tears.

I’ve got a couple of gems, like the time our new gas tank was delivered to the wrong address. By the grace of God I was walking our dog and intercepted the delivery driver just seconds before it would have been dropped in someone else’s yard. Or you might find it amusing that the wrong countertops were installed in our kitchen. I don’t. And it’s going to take a considerable amount of time before I’ll be able to laugh about it.

But all that hard work, time and patience has finally paid off. I’ve got a little girl who fits the phrase “early to bed, early to rise” to a tee. She tried to wake me up the first two mornings at our new house in time to see the sun rise over the Patuxent River, but I’m sorry to say, I was so tired from carrying boxes that she couldn’t rouse me in time.

The third time was indeed the charm, though. That morning I joined her for a cup of tea in the living room before anyone else was up.

You might not know, but I was a public school teacher in Calvert County for several years. Every single morning, as I crossed the bridge from St. Mary’s County to Calvert County, I would purposefully take a sip from my travel mug and smile to myself that I’d just had my coffee “on the water.”

A lot has changed from those days — for starters, I don’t drink coffee anymore — but now I really can enjoy my morning cup with a water view.

On that third morning at our new house, the sunrise was spectacular. The sky turned a deep purple and then the entire horizon became bright orange. We didn’t have any windows open, but the birdsong was so loud we could hear it through the walls. Canada geese, ducks and even a bald eagle flew overhead.

By the time the sun was a visible orange ball in the sky, the rest of the family had woken up and joined us in the living room to observe the bald eagle fishing in the creek. It soared by several times, then dove straight for the water, a sight I’ve seen many times in my life. I assumed that this bird was grabbing a fish, but the eagle did not fly back up into the sky with a catch in its talons.

It sat in the water, bobbing up and down vigorously. We all watched, mouths agape, for several seconds before everyone started conjecturing at once.

Was it hurt? Did its feathers get too wet? Could it not fly away? Would it drown?

My daughters and I were watching this event unfold before our very eyes, and as you might imagine, the level of concern in the living room was reaching frenzied levels.

As the seconds passed, and then turned into tense minutes, my husband had the forethought to politely suggest that I go take a shower and get ready for the day. I think he wanted to divert my attention and ensure that I wouldn’t end up in a kayak trying to render assistance to a distressed bird.

I’ve seen eagles up close before. Believe me, it’s best to keep your distance (and it’s also the law).

After about five minutes from when it plopped in the water, the most amazing thing happened. The eagle started swimming.

I recognized the motions at once, kind of like a bird attempting to do the butterfly stroke.

I’d seen a video of an owl swimming once. Apparently, it wasn’t a one-off. A quick search on the Internet confirmed that lots of large birds of prey can swim, especially ones that find their food in the water.

What we’d missed while enjoying the sight of an eagle soaring majestically above the creek was that it hadn’t swooped down to catch a fish after all. That eagle dove into the water to bag a duck. He seized it with his talons, drowned it and made breakfast of it.

My daughter ran outside and out on our pier to watch the eagle tow the drowned duck up onto shore, take a quick break to catch its breath and then make short work of its meal. After it flew away, a few seagulls (the hyenas of the bird world) cleaned up what was left.

Nature teaches us all sorts of lessons if we pay close enough attention. Watching television or a video online or looking at pictures in a magazine can certainly educate us. But there is truly nothing quite like being present in nature and witnessing it firsthand.

It doesn’t hurt to try to be a little more unplugged and forgo smartphones and computer screens when possible. Try it and you just might get rewarded with an unexpected display of nature’s savagery.

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