Thursday, May 22, 2014

Familia del Lago

We are nosy neighbors.

Down the street from where we live, we invite ourselves into our neighbors' homes. We would knock, sure, if they had doors, but they don't. So we call out, "We're here!" and step right in, treading respectfully across the threshold, though sometimes sprinting like children through the living room. 

We come with our own dinner. 

We come with binoculars. 

We stay as long as daylight, lingering with the last shreds of light that drip from branches and coat the city skyscrapers with gold across the water. 

We come, and our neighbors provide dessert.

* * * * *

I've taken to calling them family - familia del lago - our family of the lake. I call them family, knowing this is not the name they would call me by in return. There is nothing they do for me, practically speaking, but by their existence alone in this shared plot of earth, I feel a deep kinship and stirrings of belonging to something bigger. And in that, they give me more than they will ever know.

They sing, and we listen. They move about, and their lives instruct us, feed our souls with mystery and simplicity. When they are not there, we feel their absence.

First, there is Abuelo, our grandfather Great Blue Heron.  We do not know his age, but in his stately bird stature, the mass of his body and distinguished plumage draping down his chest, we know he's been around for awhile. We watch entranced as he performs his nightly rituals along different points of the lake house, speared toes and legs like arrow shafts. He bobs and crouches, hunches and balances like a seasoned Tai Chi master and Yogi combined. He is a patient hunter, waiting, always ready, to spear fish with his dagger beak. His eyes are rings of golden fire encircling the end of a dark tunnel. 

We follow him wherever he flies. By car or by foot. Wherever we drive along the lake, our eyes swoop to the trees, always looking for Abuelo.

The other day, we watched as a redwing blackbird attacked him repeatedly from behind while he perched on a log. I cried out, "No! Don't do that!" and promptly shut my mouth. They have arguments I know nothing of, after all, and I imagine Abuelo has ravaged his share of bird nests. Abuelo mostly ignored the defensive bird, then turned his head in irritation, shaking him off like a fly. 

"Just fish, Abuelo," we teased him affectionately when we left. "No baby birds, ok?" But Abuelo is old and he's a bird; he'll do as he damn well pleases. We know this. 

* * * * *

The newest addition to our family arrived unexpectedly this week. We were watching Abuelo and a chorus of swallows, a lone hummingbird and one rogue turtle, when we looked out and saw his head in the water. 

A beaver, come to eat his fill of lily pad tacos. 

The guy was hefty and through the binoculars we could see his little hands grasping tightly to these lily pads, shoveling them systematically into his mouth, one after another, without a pause.

Only a few nights before, we'd trekked all the way to a park northeast of us, maybe forty minutes away, in hopes of seeing beavers like this one. And we did, after over an hour of waiting. One beaver, just like this one, feasting among the lily pads. 

We had no idea beavers were among our neighbors, less than two miles down the road.  Yet here he was.

Ricardo named him Justin.  Justin Beaverly.  Because one time, he was trying to remember the name of Justin Timberlake (I don't recall why, exactly, he was a topic of conversation) and referred to him as Justin Bimberly. I wrote it down, of course, to remember for occasions such as this.

It just seemed fitting. 

And last night, I followed this pull toward my family again, after dinner. I was alone and sad and knew that if I were just in their company, my spirits would be refreshed. Once I arrived at one of our favorite spots, Abuelo was nowhere in sight, nor any turtles, but I saw two beaver heads hovering above water. The first beaver hung out close by for a few minutes before disappearing in the lake. I walked down to find the other, and scooted with him, bit by bit, further down the lake, until my view of him was obstructed by trees and I was running around to keep up with him. Along the lake shore I ran with my binoculars, standing on benches and hovering at the water's edge in sheer delight. I followed him until he climbed onto a bank, beneath a tree with low-lying branches, and continued his feasting. I couldn't believe how close he let me come. At one point, he turned his head and fixed me with his black glassy eyes, then slid into the water.  

 * * * * *
I stood on a concrete platform last night, my husband finally catching up with me after arriving home to find me gone. We watched as a large bird with dark brown wings and white underbelly flew toward us, above us, a fish clenched in his talons. 

"Oh! An osprey!" We had hoped to see one for several months. In a flash, he was nothing but a shape growing smaller in the distance, a mirage imprinted in memory.

* * * * *
This familia del lago, they speak to me in their own languages, this story of belonging and otherness. This wildness I can't fully grasp, can't ever get close enough to satisfy, reminds me, we are all like this. How this sense of mystery so often wears off with familiarity and we forget, even if we feel it down in our souls: we never fully grasp each other. The moment we think we can finally grasp the ones we love, they slip away, into the water, and we are standing on the shore whispering a bittersweet goodbye. Tomorrow, then, we concede, if there is tomorrow. But if not, we will hold precious this seeing of each other, glimpses of the other's wild beauty and mystery. We came close, but never close enough.

Joining Heather and  Emily and Kelli

* Also, linking up with Lisa Jo for Five-Minute Friday, even though this post is way longer than a five minute writing exercise. The prompt this week is "Close," and I had written this before I knew that - it just fit too well.


  1. Oh wow. That last paragraph. Stunning. I love how you connect to nature like family. I always feel like I am listening, waiting for nature to tell me it's stories it's secrets. I often feel more at home in it than at home.

    1. YES! Me, too, friend... always "listening, waiting for nature to tell me its stories, its secrets." It's such a magical place to be, to recognize that the world and creation just might have more to "say" than we are often capable of hearing or paying attention to. We label this childish, but I'm not convinced. I think Tolkien was onto something, the forests that could speak...

  2. Every bit of God's creation is awe inspiring! Thank you for sharing a bit of your world and for reminding me to stop and enjoy the gift of creation today!

    1. Yes! Every bit contains glory, doesn't it? I love this. I'm happy this spoke to you and that you took the time to say hello :-)

  3. "We never fully grasp each other." Oh, if there's anything 15 years of marriage has taught me (by falling and rising, of course) it's this.

    Felt like I was getting to know your neighbors as you introduced them, Amber. But I especially delight in the way you see and connect with your world. What a beautiful way to see.

    As always, glad to see you at Unforced Rhythms.

    1. I can only imagine the things you have learned after 15 years of marriage, dear friend. What I wouldn't give to sit down with you and hear those stories...

      Each time you pop on over here and I see your name, your little photo, it makes my heart so glad. I love you - and thank you for your gracious words and presence.

  4. Amber, LOVE this. I imagine you writing a series of short stories about your trips here to visit your "family." Honestly. You write observationally so well, but there are also deeper stirrings of longing and eternity and belonging and mystery that I dearly love. I'm glad you're sharing these tales. I smiled the whole time reading it. Love you, friend.

    1. Thanks to you, I'm feeling very inspired today to write into this idea of a collection of short stories...

      So very grateful for your friendship. xoxoxo

  5. I love your beautiful writing. I'm so happy to be your neighbor at Emily's this week.