This piece was also featured as a nationally syndicated column with Gannett.
During this COVID-19 crisis, I’m drawing inspiration from an unexpected source. It isn’t quiet meditation, connecting with loved ones via Zoom, or even large quantities of Lipton’s French onion soup dip with Ruffles (my go-to emotional balm).
Nope. My greatest sense of calm is found—every day—at Dollywood.
I’m not talking about the rollercoaster or waterpark. Unbeknownst to many, Dollywood has the largest exhibit of non-releasable bald eagles in the country. Better yet, in that sanctuary, tucked inside an eagle’s nest, is a live webcam. And every day while I work, I keep the webcam broadcast playing in the background.
As I write this column, I am watching the mother eagle (named Glenda by the sanctuary) use her wings to shelter a tiny, fuzzy, greyish fluffball that looks like an earmuff with claws. The fluffball (whom I have affectionately named Sam) has had his breakfast, pooped, and is taking a nap. Glenda is snuggling sleeping Sam and nibbling on some dirt.
My blood pressure is at an all-time low.
Apparently, I’m not alone. All across the country—and the world—people are tuning in not just to eagle web-cams, but to all types of live nature videos. There are puppy cams, kitten cams, and panda cams. There is a jellyfish cam at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There is even a live solar-powered safari cam posted next to a remote watering hole in Kenya.
Why wouldn’t we be drawn to such things? We are sheltered-in-place. We are craving nature, normalcy, routine, and comfort. And what better way to meet those needs than to watch the Earth continue to turn, the sun continue to rise, and creation continue to go about its business, oblivious to a global pandemic, undisturbed by a wildly fluctuating market, and utterly unmindful of what the future holds?
For me, this eagle webcam offers a powerful reminder of the importance of the basics. Glenda and Sam’s day is simple. Glenda’s duty is to keep Sam safe, warm and fed. Sam’s job is to eat, sleep, stay alive, and grow. Occasionally, the dad, Grant, shows up with food and takes a turn with Sam, but the routine is the same.
It’s too bad our priorities as human beings aren’t as focused. It’s easy to lose our way in the avalanche of alarms, noise, news, and demands of our current world order. But what really matters in the end is the same for us as it is for the eagles: caring for our loved ones, creating a safe, nurturing home, staying warm and fed, and ensuring that we eat, sleep, stay alive, and grow.
The rest is gravy.
I’m reminded of the many biblical images of eagles as guardians. “The lord shielded him and cared for him . . . like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young” (Deuteronomy 32:10-11). One of my favorite passages is from Psalm 57: “Have mercy on me, oh God, have mercy. For in you, my soul takes refuge. In the shadow of your wings I take refuge. Until the destroying storms pass by.”
Apropos at this moment, Sam is peeking out from under Glenda’s wing. All you can see is his head; the rest of his body is nestled under hers, taking refuge, toasty and protected. Truly, that tiny eaglet has what every human being yearns for, longs for, aches for: to be safely surrounded by love, life, and belonging.
When this pandemic is over, I hope to drive down to Tennessee to see Glenda, Grant, and even Sam if he’s still there. Or, perhaps, a new fluffball will be snuggled next to Glenda as the cycle of life continues. In the meantime, I’ll just continue to write while watching from afar . . . a mother eagle and her eaglet in the shelter of her wings.
— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of three books, including her newest “Miracle on 31stStreet: Christmas Cheer Every Day of the Year – Grinch to Gratitude in 26 Days!” coming May 3, 2020. Contact her through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.