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The fear of risk: Eagles wait to soar


In the wide, stick nest across the street from us, two “baby” bald eagles (they’re now almost the size of their parents) are getting ready to fly. Only one appears at a time, a high brown hulk, sitting on the edge of the nest, repeatedly opening and closing its wings, as if testing out the equipment. It will hop from one side of the nest to the other, flap its wings some more, then stop.



These short-distance hops and the wing fluttering have gone on for weeks. Sometimes, one will bend down from the side of the nest, look below, then sit up again. A few moments later, it will peer over the side of the nest again. To me, it’s thinking: Gee, that’s a long way down. The nest is about 100 feet up in a thin Douglas fir.


Yesterday, one of the babies sat perched on a branch to the right of the nest. This was progress – for the first time, it had ventured beyond the nest itself. But, ever the impatient one, I’ve been wondering: What are they waiting for? Are they trying to get the courage to jump off? Why don’t they just go for it?


Too ready to judge them for cowardice, I remind myself of my own fears about jumping off into new creative work or a different career path. It feels risky to leap when you don’t know what’s waiting for you. It takes time to build resolve. The eagles remind me of the courage required to let go and surrender to flight in all of its forms.


As for the height itself, I’ve had my own surprises. Normally, I love being in high places; I’ve climbed to 20,000 feet and feel exhilarated when I’m on a mountain or looking down at some astounding panoramic view. Yet, last year, when I tried the zip line set up in downtown Vancouver for the Winter Olympics, I felt petrified just walking up the few flights of stairs to the launch site, then stepping down three small steps to take off. It was only about three stories up, for heaven’s sake. I couldn’t believe that my legs were wobbling. I was teamed up with a construction worker, who’s used to spending weeks at least 30 floors up on high-storey buildings, and he had the same reaction. This surprised us both.


Years ago, while up in a hot-air balloon in Langley, BC, I was too afraid to let go of the vertical supports to take photos. We were only about 1,500 feet off the ground. This mystified me. I told myself it was because we were moving around in the air, not resting on something solid.



Next month, the CN Tower in Toronto will open its Edge Walk, letting harnessed people walk on, and hang out from, a platform that has no guardrail and is 1,168 feet up. I doubt that humans will ever stop pushing for new high-level thrills. Yet, fear is always there, waiting.


I’m feeling more compassion for these young eagles now and their probable fear. Let them take more time before they fly. Maybe they’re just exercising what I need more of: patience.


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July 30, 2011 at 12:32 pm
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