Just down the road from Rainier is a weathered sign indicating a Whistling Swan refuge and nesting wetlands. The sign, as are the wetlands, seem to be unnoticed and even forgotten by most. I had never heard of Whistling Swans until I saw this sign, but a quick check online revealed they are now called Tundra Swans. They spend their Summers in the Arctic Tundra, and they Winter in various places throughout North America.
We have lived here for five years and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Tundra Swan. But last week, just before collapsing into bed, I heard an unusual calling in the night sky. It was softer and more melodic than a Canadian Goose. It wasn’t ducks. It almost sounded like the squawk of a Great Blue Heron, but softer – and there were many birds. The herons don’t fly in flocks.
A few days later, I heard them again. And then the next night both of us heard them. After a quick search of my Audubon Bird app, I was able to determine we were hearing Tundra Swans. It was exciting to read about this magnificent bird with a 10 foot wingspan, a tremendous migratory history, and their faithful mating practices.
I heard several more flocks going overhead last night, and when I got up this morning, I watched two flocks overhead. Now, recognizing their call, I didn’t even need binoculars to identify them – for they were high in the sky.
As I stood on our now empty back deck on this cool, Fall morning, I could feel change in the air. Fall, for whatever reason, has always been my favorite season. This might be true for many introverts. It is a time of change, a time of reflection, and a time of mourning. We mourn the loss of Summer – and this has been one of the best Summers the Pacific NW has experienced in quite sometime.
Maybe it’s a melancholy thing – Fall that is. Nothing brings out the depth of melancholy like the changes of Fall. Winter, and its bleakness are soon to be here, and Summer celebrations are winding down. Fall is the harbinger of death, Winter epitomizes death itself.
I thought I’d made peace with our foreclosure and departure. But yesterday, I realized I hadn’t. As I walked beside our house, up a gravel path my friend Jack helped me lay, I was struck by a sense of mourning. This is a good house, it is on a great piece of property, and everyone mentions how peaceful it is here. If I were one to cry easily, I would have cried at these thoughts. Nonetheless, I was struck by a sense of grief and loss.
In a couple of days we will be throwing away everything that has no real value; we will be donating some stuff to a local charity; and we will be selling the last of our furniture and appliances. In a few days, we will be joining millions across America in a homelessness brought about by a decline in the middle class. We will retrace the long journey of our ancestors on the Oregon Trail, but in reverse. What took them months, we will undo in a matter of days.
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The Whistling Swan is now called the Tundra Swan, but I’m sure you won’t find a single one that is even remotely concerned by the name change. Like those who have criticized us for letting ourselves fall into poverty, unemployment, and homelessness, I am unconcerned. My concerns lie in the health of our family. It’s better to be concerned about issues that actually affect our lives.
This morning, I awoke at 3am. I saw the brightness of the night, illuminated by an almost full moon. I heard the Tundra Swans flying south for the Winter. My mind raced through the thousands of details yet to be dealt with before our evacuation. My mind was not at rest, nor was my heart at peace. I prayed, I surrendered, I accepted.
I opened a book to a chapter describing Lot and his family being evacuated from Sodom before its destruction. They were hesitant, they were afraid, and they were confused. The author described Lot as being “stupefied by fear.” I’ve seen this, as a paramedic dealing with some of life’s most terrible events, I’ve seen people in complete disarray and totally undone by what they have witnessed and/or experienced. I understand this phase.
I have good reason to be afraid. I have good reason to be hesitant. I even have good reason to be in mourning. But I also have good reason to be courageous. I have a very good reason to be bold. I even have a good reason to celebrate the changes that lie ahead. Not that I naturally pursue the positive outlook, I tend to be too cerebral for that – too melancholy – and way too prepared for the “what-if.”
As I read last night, I was reminded again about the consequences of leadership. One can lead into success or failure. Lot’s leadership, or the lack thereof, resulted in hesitancy in his family. First, his wife, grieving for the past, turned and looked back on the wealth she was leaving behind. No doubt memories, mementos, and friendships lost to the destruction flooded her heart with sadness. She lost her life and Lot lost his wife – all because of doubt and hesitancy. Later, his daughters committed detestable acts because of their own doubt.
We have struggled, we have prayed, we have grieved, and we have been discouraged. I lost my job three years ago because I would not put my job before my family. I gave up my job five months ago for the same reason. We believe we are being led into a new adventure – one filled with greater peace, greater health, and great opportunity than what lies here.
We are done here. It is sad – but don’t grieve, don’t pity, and don’t offer condolences. Please help us to celebrate a new opportunity to trust God fully, Yes, empathize with the challenges, but do not encourage us to wallow in grief – that is not only dangerous, but unnecessary.
Note: In the short-term, we have been invited to stay with my Wonderful Wife’s aunt, on her ranch in Nebraska. We don’t know what the future holds after this.