It’s been a long time since I blogged, but a couple of weekends back I returned to the Malverns which inspired my first post on this blog 8 years ago. It was a glorious sunny day and from the top I observed many birds hovering and gliding on the fairly brisk wind, at times almost motionless above me. It made me think of how the wind isn’t just something to fight and hide away from, but that if we face the right direction and reach out, maybe we can soar.
I was reminded of a favourite passage in Isaiah 40:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31 NIVUK
I think the birds I saw at the Malverns were kites and kestrels, but over the summer I did see plenty of bald eagles in the area around Tofino on Vancouver Island. I managed to catch a few pictures there and back in Vancouver (see below) but for truly great pictures check out some of the amazing work of the Tofino photographer we met on our travels.
Some of the eagles there tend to stay near the harbour, enjoying the easy pickings of cast off fish scraps but typically Canadian eagles will travel further south for the winter, flying up to 225 miles per day. This site details how if there is no wind, eagles can’t soar but will just stay put or travel locally.
Some versions of the Isaiah passage talk about waiting on the Lord to renew our strength. Perhaps after a long journey the birds will need to rest, feed and renew their strength but they also need to wait until the wind is right to travel any significant distance. On my way back down from Worcestershire Beacon I stopped in to the Malvern Book Cooperative and bought a copy of Adam Nicolson’s wonderful book, The Seabird’s Cry. The first chapter after the introduction focuses on the fulmar, white and grey dove-like birds found in the Hebrides. Nicolson quotes James Fisher who studied fulmars for many years:
Rough weather is as necessary to the fulmar as the Trade Winds were to the human conquest of the New World. Rough weather is the fulmar’s passport, its transport to the mid-ocean. (p30)
Scientists from Aberdeen fitted GPS loggers to 22 fulmar birds in 2012, and Nicolson describes how they followed the journey of one bird (identified as 1568) in particular amazement. Once his partner returned to look after their egg, 1568 flew out to sea but waited two days afloat on the ocean near Orkney. When the winds blew he travelled north west for eleven hours up to the channel between Shetland and the Faeroes where he fed on the rich plankton there, before surprising the scientists by picking up new winds further west south west and flying a thousand miles in fifty five hours to the Mid Atlantic Ridge, two thirds of the way to Canada. This even richer fishing ground was his banquet for three days before he headed home via south west Ireland and arrived back at his nest after travelling nearly 3900 miles in sixteen days.
If it were calm and the bird had to flap its wings to move all day… they would have to expend 2000 calories, thirteen times what they would consume sitting or sleeping or doing nothing. As the wind increases, life becomes more viable so that when it is blowing at about 20 miles an hour… they can glide most of the time… but when the wind notches up a little further, to about 25 miles an hour, or Force 5 to 6, flying costs them nothing. It is the magic horizon. In those winds, fulmars almost never beat their wings at all, but drink in the energy they need from the wind around them. That, and more, was the wind on which 1568 drove more than halfway to Canada. (p35-6)
I tried to share some of this in church this morning, but what strikes me most now is the futility of flapping away in our own strength when we can wait for the wind to soar. Bethel Music have a powerful song called Catch The Wind which includes some of these ideas. But the song that came to mind when I was finding the title for this blog was the old Donovan track which seems much less hopeful about finding the love he is looking for, and how trying to catch the wind (and keep it captured) is a metaphor for trying to pin down some flighty lover.
My friend who was leading worship this morning picked up the ideas about how jumping off a cliff to start flying is pretty scary. Even trying to wait for the wind, we never quite know if we’re going to soar for ages or whether the wind may drop and we will simply glide down. As I contemplate venturing back into dating I can’t know whether a bit of flapping will lead me back to the ocean with a bit of a splash or whether I might catch a current more like soaring. But if I never leave the cliff, I’ll never know.
And with God, sometimes we soar more than others, but we can trust the way He has made us. If we feel like we’re just flapping and getting nowhere, maybe it’s better to rest, feed and wait for the wind. But when that wind comes, we still have the choice to sit in our nests, wings tightly wrapped around us and going nowhere. Or we can soar on eagle’s wings.