Near the northern Illinois farm where I grew up and where my parents still live stands a bald eagles’ nest. It’s about 100 yards back from the road, atop a tall oak tree overlooking the Piscasaw Creek. Miles of cornfields surround this little meadow where cattle graze — not exactly where you’d picture majestic eagles soaring. But for whatever reason, there they are. They’ve been there, year-round, about 10 years now.
Whenever I drive out to the farm, I take a longer-than-necessary route in order to check out the nest. Often I’ll spot an eagle perched high in a nearby tree, scanning the creek for fish. Or the nest area will be empty, but then a mile later I’ll see an eagle gliding 50 feet above the grass, hunting field mice. Late spring is especially active, as eggs hatch and the mature birds care for their chicks, eventually unfeathering the nest and providing do-or-die flight lessons.
Even though I grew up here, it took me a few years to realize that northern Illinois — as flat as a basketball court mostly — contains a storehouse of natural wonder. Eagles are only the beginning. Deer, fox, coyotes, beavers, river otters and woodchucks can be spotted regularly if you know where to look. Pheasants, red-tailed hawks, owls, turkeys and great blue herons thrive here. Annual migratory routes bring white pelicans and even sand hill cranes.
Most times when I pull off the road to watch an eagle, a dozen or so cars pass without slowing down. The drivers either don’t know, don’t care or are in too much of a hurry to be distracted. That’s nice, in that I get these moments all to myself. But it’s sad that one of God’s most majestic creatures is perched there in plain sight and hardly anyone realizes it.
When I’m in a good season as a writer and photographer, my sense of wonder is set to high. A bald eagle, a quiet stream or a snow-covered woods point me to God’s artistry and infinite creativity. I recognize his handiwork, and the inclination is not only to quietly enjoy those moments, but also to capture them as best I can for the benefit of others.
Writers and visual journalists can steward God’s glory by taking good care of his stories. Those may occur on a grand scale, like whole communities finding hope and healing because they’ve received portions of the Bible for the first time. They might occur on a personal scale, like a prodigal son returning to his family or his faith.
Or a simple, wondrous moment in Illinois farm country might provide an unmistakable glimpse of God’s peace. Wherever we may find ourselves, an ever-developing sense of wonder opens our eyes to countless stories and images that others might drive right past.
Then we get to show them what they missed.
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