I could hardly believe my eyes, but there they were.  Trees filled with American Bald Eagles and some Ospreys.  I counted.  There were between eighteen and twenty of them spread out in four different trees.  It was breath-taking.

They were gathered for a lunch of fish and fowl.  They were gathered not far from the spillway of a very large lake.  When the water comes through the spillway into the river, it brings with it fish.  The Eagles were fishing.  There were as many as four of them in the air at a time, dipping down to try to grab a fish.

There were also around 150 ducks of mixed variety gathered on the water in that same area.  The ducks were aware that they could make the banquet table just as easily as the fish.  It was actually comical to watch — probably not funny to the ducks.  When an Eagle got too close to one of the duck, the duck would do just that, duck.  It would pop underwater for a moment.

I was captivated with the scene for as much as an hour and a half while a Volunteer was at the house with Mary Ann.  This was not actually a day to be out and about.  We got a few inches of dry snow on top of the nine inches we got during the Christmas Eve blizzard.  It has been cold enough that all the snow is still here.  The streets melted some, but dry snow on top of refrozen melting ice made for some treacherous driving.

As I drove out to the lake and back, there were eight to ten cars in the median or off to the side in the ditch.  Many of the cars still had people in them.  When I left, I had intended on going to a couple of my favorite spots by the lake to check for birds.  I was dressed to be able to get out and walk if I chose to do so.  As I traveled there, it became clear that there would be a risk in getting off the main road on to areas that had not yet been cleared.  While a four-wheel drive vehicle would have made it more possible to get to those spots, there was something else that dominated my thinking.

Were I to slide off into a spot I could not get out of, there would be a long wait for help.  There were no other cars in on the roads around the lake.  I was making new tracks in some of the roads I was already traveling.  If I were tied up for any length of time waiting for help, it would complicate the day for Mary Ann and the Volunteer.  Any risks I take are not just about me.  They are about Mary Ann.  She cannot be by herself.  If I am not available to be with her, it would be no small task to keep her secure.  Gratefully, Mary (who schedules the Volunteers) would make phone calls until she found Volunteers to stay with Mary Ann.   Bad roads also impact Volunteers.  They are not necessarily able to get out with ease themselves.

As a result of those concerns, I was extremely cautious.  I found a spot on the road across the dam.  There is a great view from the top of the dam.  The spot was right above the spillway.  Snow was falling lightly, the sun was just a light spot in the clouds.  With the snow covering the ground it was very bright.  The panorama of frozen snow-covered lake on one side and the expansive view of the landscape through the lightly falling snow the other side was as beautiful as it was peaceful.

I listened to music as the car ran to keep me comfortable, and I watched the scene below.  The last of the music was some Russian Orthodox liturgical music.  It was as if I was in a bright white cathedral filled with the presence of God.  After so many days contained by the four walls of a small townhome, it was a wonderfully refreshing respite.

Mary Ann seemed to do pretty well today.  We watched the Kansas City Chiefs win, a rare treat.  Mary Ann went to bed fairly early, but she has been watching television while lying in bed for about two and a half hours now.  There is no sign of her going to sleep yet.

We chose to stay in tonight.  The weather is predicted to continue to be far colder than usual here.  The combination of the snow cover and temperatures heading to below zero later in the week are testing our mettle.  Our Northern Illinois roots help us from being completely intimidated, but what the wheel chair adds to the complexity of getting in and out of a car and in and out of parking lots and in and out of sometimes heavy and/or awkward doors with threshholds that can provide barriers others would never notice, all makes us think twice about going out in cold and snowy weather.

At least it looks pretty outside!

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Another day in the cabin.  I thought we would try the Evening Service at church tonight, but King Colon, a high blood pressure headache, and an unwillingness to tackle the cold and the wheelchair on ice and snow while trying to get into church all combined to change our minds. 

Today was a better day.  One reason was that I made a pot of strong coffee to feed my caffeine addiction.  Yesterday, some stomach discomfort interfered with the coffee intake.  Another reason the day went better was that we had a morning visitation.   It was nothing supernatural, but it was uplifting.  Don, Edie and Daughter Gretchen surprised us with a visit.  They were bearing gifts, Gretchen’s soup (very tasty and very filling), cookies from church (made by the Deacon who preached and his family), and some other cookies, bundt cake and muffins.  The food and the conversation helped stimulate a more positive atmosphere in our cabin. 

The other reason the day was a bit better was that I got outside, shoveled snow and scraped ice, stimulating my brain with endorphins.  Having grown up in Northern Illinois, I am not unfamiliar with such things.  Actually, I have an unpublished goal of having the first completely cleared and dry (down to the cement) driveway in the subdivision.  I was disappointed that I did not find the energy to get it done right away, but the wind and blowing snow made it almost impossible.

The Homes Association had used a bobcat to clear the worst of the snow from the drive, but there was a layer that was packed down by the treads of the bobcat, and then blowing snow added a couple of inches more.   At least looking from my drive, it appeared that no one else was down to cement either yet this morning. 

I began shoveling.  Some of the drifts at the edge of the driveway were pretty tall.  I paced myself as I worked on the drive.  Every time I lost my footing for a bit, I thought about the consequences of my falling and cracking my head.  Then, of course, the thought of all those older men who had heart attacks while shoveling snow came to mind.  When the next door neighbor came out for a moment on the way to her car, she encouraged me to leave the task for the sun to accomplish in coming days.  I assured her that I would be careful.  I told her that if I was foolish enough to over-exert and had a heart attack, my children would summarily finish the job, all the while asking me what I thought I was doing out there shoveling snow.  They are fully aware of the challenge of dealing with their Mom’s illness if anything were to happen to me.  They would not hesitate for a moment to do whatever is necessary, but given their own obligations to spouse and children, it would be a challenge of monumental proportions. 

After shoveling the snow, there was, of course a layer of ice to be dealt with.  I am very proud of my method for dealing with an ice covered driveway.  First, I have an ice scraper just like the one we used regularly when I was growing up in Aurora, Illinois.  It is the perfect tool for loosening the ice so that it can easily be removed.  Second, I have the secret knowledge.  Removing ice has nothing to do with temperature.  It is all about color!  More accurately, it is about dark color.  

Even on a cloudy day, there is a certain amount of sunlight that reaches the surface of the earth.  White repels it.  Dark absorbs it.  My goal is to get rid of as much pure white surface as possible and reveal or add as much dark surface as possible.  The snow is shoveled down to the top of the ice. The ice is dark.  The scraper is used to wherever there is an edge that it can be forced under without too much effort.  Then comes the kitty litter, the cheapest available.  It is sprinkled liberally over any ice remaining on the drive.  The sunlight warms the dark particles and they work their way through the ice.  The sunlight also warms the cement under the ice so that the ice does not stick to it.  Then scraping again and again whatever has been loosened, clears the cement with relatively little effort. 

Some ice remains, but it has kitty litter on it.  The sun and the wind should melt and evaporate what is left tomorrow in short order.  Understand, we have the advantage of the drive being fully exposed to the sun since it faces south and it is not shaded by trees. 

Added advantages to using kitty litter are that when it first goes on, it provides traction, reducing the likelihood of slipping, and it does no harm to the grass when the snow melts (at least I don’t think so).  The one negative is that it clings to shoes and tracks into the house when the shoes come in.  The trade off is worth it. 

I am continuing the online retreat.  Mary Ann napped twice today.  I used the time for the shoveling and scraping, but there was enough to do some more thinking about and recording of childhood experiences and their impact on my formation.  The mental snapshots of various moments in my childhood have elicited strong feelings, some pleasant and some very unsettling.  I witnessed a worker killed by the walls of a sewer repair ditch falling in on him.  There was a murder/suicide across the street.  A kitten was run over as I watched — another put down.  There was talk about our oldest brother who died on Christmas Eve when he was five years old.  His appendix had burst.  I simply could not ignore the concept of death.  My Rheumatic Fever shaped my self image as a buddy played a game of tag with me in which my touching anyone would give them Polio.  I sat out of gym classes and games at recess time. 

Those experiences forced me to come to terms with death fairly early in life.  My faith was powerfully reassuring.  I suppose the Rheumatic Fever experience gave me a certain level of compassion for the sick and those who feel themselves to be on the outside looking in.  A variety of experiences during those years produced feelings of guilt whether deserved or not.  It is a clear understanding of the Grace of God that emerged early on as I processed those experiences.

By the same token, there are wonderful memories of hours spent outside with the bugs and birds and tadpoles and weeds and grass and sunshine and puffy clouds and rain and wind.  There is no doubt that those experiences have programmed me to find peace and joy and satisfaction in the natural world. 

What I learned from those early experiences has certainly helped shape who I have become.  Mary Ann has not really been very forthcoming with stories of her early years.  Most of what I know about those years has come from listening to her talk with her three friends from Fifth Grade on.  I have little doubt the best stories about those years have been told outside of my hearing. 

So far, two days into the online retreat, I am glad to be doing it.  There have been two short Scripture readings so far.  Both have been very instructive in the process.  If you are interested, the following link will take you to the home page.  There can be found a link to the “Online Retreat.” http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/online.html

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.