Camera in hand, I tip-toe along the trail behind one of our local neighborhoods. A tiny creek burbles alongside the path, and the low hum of mosquitoes fills the air with a palpable tension. My finger is poised on the shutter, and my faded tennis shoes seem to whisper against the gravel, as if they, too, understand the need for silence.
I am hunting for eagles.
The local newspaper said there is a pair of nesting bald eagles, right here in our little town in the middle of the Midwest. For a town whose biggest headline is often the opening of another fast food restaurant, this revelation is news indeed! Who knew that anything as majestic as a bald eagle could pick our town as its home?
I can’t believe it.
I want desperately to believe it.
One of my friends says she found the eagle’s nest. She even caught a picture of a brown blur rising from a tree, which she claims is one of the nesting pair. Secretly, I hope she is right. I’m following her instructions, heading to the same place where she allegedly saw the nest–the place I hope to find the eagles.
I ease deeper into the woods. A morning shower has left the air thick with humidity, and my hair curls sticky against my neck. I can taste the damp earth with each breath; tendrils of mist tug at my ankles. I inch forward, eyes darting from tree to tree, every sense awakened and tingling.
A sudden rustling freezes my breath in my throat. Silently I raise my camera, toggling the ring around my zoom lens as my eyes and ears strain to find the source of the sound.
I can see leaves swaying, bending, scraping over branches. Something is moving behind them—something alive. The eagle! I can feel my pulse quicken as I adjust my lens ever so slightly, pinpointing the exact spot where I think the bird will emerge.
Come on out, I coax inside my head. Please…just for a moment…let me see you.
My breathing is measured and shallow as I wait. The leaves eventually stop swaying. My arm muscles begin to cramp, but I do not lower them. A few lingering raindrops plink down from the trees above me. Any moment now…
There! A squirrel comes bounding through the leaves and skitters away down the trunk of the tree, chattering his displeasure as he darts into the brush. For half a second, I move my camera towards him, drawn to the sudden movement. Then a sparrow bursts through the treetop with a chirping cry and a mad fluttering of wings, and I twist after him by instinct. His wings beat a steady thwip thwip against the damp morning air, and I marvel at his speed and grace as he spirals into the sky. My camera clicks in cadence with his ascension, climb—click!—climb—click!—loop—click!
Behind the lens, I can’t stop smiling. This little sparrow is not the eagle I was looking for, but searching for the eagle has made this unexpected encounter magical. I am enchanted by the flutter of golden-brown wings, his arcing flight into a rain-smeared sky. I can see the fierce beauty in his fragile body, the stain of the magnificent upon the ordinary.
In anticipating the majesty of the eagle, I have found myself awakened to the splendor of the sparrow.
The moment calls to mind the words of C.S. Lewis, who wrote about a similar phenomenon in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children.” In the essay, Lewis proposes that a child who has read fantasy adventure stories (or “fairy tales,” as Lewis calls them) often finds himself filled with a longing for something just out of reach. However, rather than alienating or embittering him against the real world, this longing serves to enhance the child’s experience with reality. The young reader “does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods,” Lewis writes. “The reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”
Like many other adults, I learned long ago that we live in a world filled largely with sparrows—a world where glimpses of eagles are rare. As I have grown older, I have come to grips with the harsh realities of the world we live in. I know that this world does not always resemble the worlds of my favorite fantasy novels, or even the photos on the front page of the newspaper.
But that does not mean I will stop reading, or dreaming, or hunting.
Each fantasy world I visit becomes a part of me, and each world lends its magic and majesty to this one. I have learned to be discerning about the fantasy worlds I visit, to cultivate and protect my wild, God-given imagination by selecting stories that echo His truth. And through the best of those fantasy worlds, my eyes have been opened to see the best in this world.
To see the eagle in every sparrow.
To find the enchantment in every wood, the hand of God in every moment.
The reading leads to the seeking, and the seeking leads to the seeing.
And that’s an adventure I pray I never stop taking.