(Harsh) Life Lessons Learned from a Bald Eagles’ Nest

I have been on emotional roller coaster for the last six weeks and it’s all because of bald eagles. Two of them: Jackie and Shadow, perched high above Big Bear Lake in their sturdy but rather uncomfortable looking nest. Thanks to a 24-hour a day live camera feed on YouTube, we get to see these bald eagles mate (any time there’s a camera feed on the internet it has to involve porn, right?), eat fish, poo, tend to their nest, and generally look quite bored.

You know what else we got to see? EGGS! Jackie laid one egg on January 25th, and then another on January 28th, and then just when we thought we couldn’t handle the excitement, a third egg was laid on January 31st. Guys: I had eagle fever and judging by the tens of thousands of others watching the feed, they caught the bug too. (Important note! Eagle fever isn’t the same as beaver fever, which apparently involves a lot of diarrhea. Everything was okay gastroenterologically over here.)

You know what wasn’t okay though? Me. The eggs were supposed to start their hatching process on February 29th (we were all on “pip watch” and if you aren’t a bird nerd like me then you’ll just have to Google that), and Nothing Was Happening. 30,000 of us were watching like hawks (bahaha bird humor), pretending to focus on work, waiting for a baby beak to break through one of the eggs, hoping, hoping, hoping, waiting to pop a bottle of Champagne (yes I had one picked out), overwhelmingly excited about ALMOST-HATCHED LIFE!

But the days flew by (you’d better not be missing all these bird puns), and there weren’t signs of pips or beaks … yet. The Husband, on the eagle voyeurism journey with me (mostly because I foisted my laptop in front of him morning, noon, and night to watch the eagles pretty much just sitting there), knew he had to prepare my too-fragile-with-anything-having-to-do-with-animals soul. “It’s highly unlikely they’re going to hatch, Jo,” he’d repeatedly caution me, until I lovingly told him he could fuck right off and stop talking trash about the “it’s not looking good” unhatched eggs. I wanted magical thinking so much more than rational thinking.

On March 11th eagle experts conceded that the eggs were probably “not viable.”

  • Cue denial: “no, there’s still time.”
  • Then anger: “Mother Nature is a whore!”
  • I didn’t have much to bargain with, so I skipped that stage of grief.
  • Depression was mild, but there: “Are Jackie and Shadow sad, too?” (OMG I am fixated on this: do they mourn and grieve for the eaglet lives that were almost born? Do they care, or are they indifferent? Any animal that can sleep out in the freezing cold snow must be resilient both physically and emotionally, right? PLEASE SAY YES. I really want to hear that they are cool with this being a chick-free year in their lives. Do I need an intervention?)
  • And then acceptance, the final stage of grief. I’m working on it. These beautiful excerpted words, posted on the Big Bear Lake non-profit blog, are helpful:

It is not a matter of ‘giving up’, it is simply a matter of taking what is in front of us and moving forward…just the way Jackie and Shadow do.

With the nest camera, we are all simply observers of their everyday journey. We can feel sad that things do not seem to be working out the way we had hoped or for the dissolving of expectations we had for what was to come.

Jackie and Shadow and their journey are still here. They continue doing what they do best…being eagles and taking care of what they have in front of them in each moment.

At this point, they are both caring for the eggs, switching places, arguing over who’s turn it is and being gentle and tender both with the eggs and with each other.

Thank you to each and every one of you for continuing to enjoy Jackie and Shadow and for your continued support and understanding even in the midst of all the emotional turmoil that nature can sometimes trigger inside us.

RIP EagletsLet’s just take a sec to underscore this line: “We can feel sad that things do not seem to be working out the way we had hoped or for the dissolving of expectations we had for what was to come.” How often do we get attached to a particular outcome? Don’t we cling to our hopes and expectations, sometimes with little room for other realities? How often are we willing to dissolve our expectations?

Reminds me of our recent discussion about equanimity and my crass-but-clear definition of that hard to pronounce word: “keeping our shit together when things go both wrong and right. It’s about remaining calm, composed, and impartial just as much when life is a cacophony of craziness as when it’s a deliciously delightful happy high.” Can I be impartial and composed about the three eggs that didn’t turn out as I hoped?

In my upcoming book (You Only Die Once: How to Make It to the End with No Regrets) I talk about the notion of practicing death as a way to accept its inevitability in our own lives. Noticing the little deaths around us can create equanimity and recalibrate our expectations about the ebb and flow of life. Your bouquet of flowers will die. Your milk in the fridge will go bad. Some of your friendships will end. Some of your friends will die. You … you get the idea. Noticing and appreciating these signs and signals can be valuable.

So Jackie and Shadow help highlight not only the facts of life (yes, that Mother Nature is a bitch—but *sigh* she’s just doing her job), and also that we might just need to chill out a bit with our expectations. Let’s take a bird’s eye view (sorry, I tried too hard with that one) about the grand arc of life … and almost-life … and death. RIP little eaglet eggs.

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: Just in case you missed it above … my book is available for preorder here: You Only Die Once: How to Make It to the End with No Regrets. Thank you for ordering it, if you choose to!

P.P.S.: Let’s connect on Instagram?

P.P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!


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