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Lifting up on Eagle’s Wings

Jan 13, 2023 04:00PM ● By Dr. Randall Niehoff

Photo by William R. Cox

“Birds sing after a storm, why shouldn’t I?” —Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890-1969)

These words of wisdom were spoken in an interview by Rose Kennedy soon after the assassination of her son Robert on June 5, 1968. She and her husband, Joseph, had been through several “storms”: Their son John was killed in 1963, and they lost both a son and a daughter in the 1940s. In response to real tragedy and painful loss, her attitude expresses resilience and resolve—a gift of encouragement to those of us who survived the destructive power of hurricane Ian on September 28.

The damaging winds and devasting flood surge caused real tragedy and painful loss. There was death (for people, animals, and plants) and destruction (loss of material things and treasured memorabilia). “Homelessness” became a personal experience (not just a societal issue). For those whose properties are now in need of one or all of the three “R’s” (repair, restoration, replacement), the next stage of life’s journey looks like a hard, long, and expensive trip. Our planet’s nature has put up an unexpected roadblock, forcing us to cut a new path through thorny terrain, one step at a time. For those who like to be in control, mouthing the words of an ancient but relevant aphorism leaves a bitter taste: Wisdom is choosing to enjoy the scenery along a detour.

Folks here on the Gulf Coast are learning to think again about the issue of “who’s in charge.” Hurricanes happen—even those that hit with such power only once in 500 (or even 1,000 years). No willful mind caused Ian to blow through; and we are the willful minds who chose to settle and build here. Detours are the price we pay to live in a world where natural patterns are neutral and we have the free will to live in that world.

No malevolent demon or cunning alien creates perfect storms, yet we find ourselves gifted with the soaring wings of thought and dignity of choice to study our surroundings and invent technologies that predict outcomes and protect ourselves. As a result, it is absolutely true what wise people affirm: Although we can’t control all that happens to us, we can control what we choose to do about it.

Just two years ago this February the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) staff and volunteers did a shorebird survey and counted 2,443 individuals of 25 different species (including our resident eagles). Just a few months ago (in the disruptive wake of Ian) that alert and dedicated staff kept their eyes open while volunteering for the cleanup of our islands and reported, “All our eagles are accounted for!”

The eagles demonstrate resilience and resolve, and it is expected that most of our other feathered friends will be around to be counted during February 2023. Which brings to mind yet another bit of wisdom: A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not in the branch but in its wings.  —Charlie Wardle


The Niehoff house won’t be habitable for months, but we are grateful for the chance to “nest” in the unoccupied condo of a generous friend and looking forward to “flying home” in late spring.