Eagles, otters, and being open to see what our Father wants to show us

My son Nathaniel and I stood on a rock outcropping overlooking a small lake in the Sierras, watching in awe as a bald eagle glided over the water no more than a hundred yards from us. All was quiet. This lake was our home for our five-day backpacking trip, and we were thankful to have it all to ourselves.

Crooked Lakes at Grouse Ridge
It was the golden light of evening, and we had just finished dinner. Moments before, I had been bent over our cooking rock, organizing our dishes to wash. Nathaniel had turned around to look at the lake. He suddenly exclaimed, "Dad! A bald eagle!" I wheeled around and breathed, "Oh my gosh. You're right." There's no mistaking a bald eagle for any other bird. Its size, grace, and coloring (sharp contrast between brown body and white head and tail) are unique. It is a truly regal bird.

We watched the eagle soar around the lake for a minute or so and then fly off out of sight to our right.
As I stood looking across the lake, I silently prayed, "Thank you, Father, for giving us such a spectacular gift! If there's anything else you want to show us in your creation, we are up for seeing it." Not more than a few seconds later, I spotted a second bald eagle perched at the top of a dead pine tree near the water's edge on the other side of the lake. Nathaniel and I excitedly watched this bird for a few minutes until it flew off through the woods and over the ridge.

I told Nathaniel about the prayer I had prayed. We prayed it together: "Thank you, Father! If there's anything else you want to show us on this trip, we want to see it."

The next morning after breakfast, we were looking around the lake again, enjoying its quiet beauty. We noticed something moving on the surface the water on the other side. It was an object above the surface, creating a wake behind it. We weren't sure at first what it was. A huge rat? No. A beaver? No -- not at a lake. A massive snake? We hope not. I said, "I think it might be an otter." We followed its every movement until it reached the edge of the water and climbed out onto the rocks. Yes, that confirmed it. An otter!

I have been in the mountains a lot, but I have only seen an otter in the wild one other time that I recall. It is rare indeed. I thought back to the prayer we had prayed the evening before. "Really, God? An otter too? Thank you, thank you!"

We quickly moved around the lake to get a closer look. We wanted to see if we could get a seat on the rocks above the water on that side of the lake so we could watch the otter and take some photos. Eventually we ended up on a rock slope about 25 feet above the water. Now we were moving slowly and quietly. Otters are shy, and we didn't want to upset this one. It wasn't in sight. We crept down through some boulders, watching and listening. Nathaniel was a few feet in front of me.

Then we heard a noise coming from a pile of rocks right below us. It was a growl, and then a growl, and then a snort. We froze to listen. Growl, growl, snort. The growl sounded like our cat when he growls. The snort was sort of a grunt with an expulsion of air. We both knew we had gotten too close to the otter's home in the rocks. It was warning us to get away. Now it's one thing to see an otter, and it's a whole other thing to get so close that you can hear what it is saying. We couldn't see it, but we got the message. Nathaniel was uneasy because he feared the animal might lunge out of the rocks at him. We quietly retreated.

A few minutes later when we were further away, the otter came back out and swam around the lake, doing what otters do (cruise, dive for food, and roll around in the water). All this time there were no other people around. It was just us, the lake, and the otter. We took this as another amazing answer to our prayer: "Father, if there's anything you want to show us, we want to see it."

We watched the otter off and on for the next day. It was such a thrill! Then the day before we left, we went on a day hike to explore some other lakes near us. We went off trail and used our map to guide us. We found one large pond and as we were walking around it through the trees, I suddenly spotted something brown on a half-submerged log. I whispered, "Nathaniel! Otter!" We spend the next two hours at this pond, taking photos, relaxing, and eating lunch. We named it Otter Pond. At one point, this otter let Nathaniel get within 60 or 70 feet to take a few photos.

A few hours after we saw the otter for the first time, while we were out hiking, we met an older gentleman named Paddy. He has been packing in that chain of lakes (Grouse Ridge) for the last 26 years. He has seen otters, but it has been very rare. He commented that the experts at Cal Berkeley argued that there's no way otters are living in that area. The experts are apparently wrong. When we told Paddy we had seen a pair of bald eagles, his eyebrows went up. 26 trips there, and he has never spotted an eagle. 3 days there, and we had been treated to both otters and eagles. What are the odds? As we were talking to Paddy, I thought back to that simple prayer: "Father, if there's anything you want to show us, we want to see it."

The following Sunday, my dad preached at Sanctuary on how God has a father's loving heart. He is eager to give good gifts to his children. We simply need to be open to receive what the Father wants to give us.

The last two occasions when I have spent significant time in the mountains, I have had a distinct sense that God loves to show off his creation to his children. (You can read a post about last year's solo camping trip here.)

I wonder how much we miss out on the Father's blessings because we get so busy we don't (a) ask what the Father wants to show us and (b) let him show us when and how he wants to.

I invite you to pray with me today, in the midst of the bustle of everyday life: "Father, if there's anything you want to show us today, we want to see it."

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