The other day I took the dog for a long walk, as these days I tend to do
What else is there to do in a global pandemic / national recession / impending climate catastrophe?
Walking is a relaxing stress-reliever. It’s also productive. I do my best thinking on foot.
I take in nature. Creative ideas flow. I see story symbolism everywhere.
It’s Why I Walk.
This day was no different.
I was lost in thought near a reservoir I don’t frequent often when out of the corner of my eye I saw an outstanding sight.
Right ahead, on the side of the road, sat a bald eagle.
That’s right. A bald eagle.
Black-bodied, white-headed, perched in the grass.
Rare, once endangered, the majestic emblem of our nation.
While not a frequent occurrence, it’s not an impossible sight. In our rural suburban area, I’ve come across wild turkeys, snapping turtles, red-tailed hawks, bears, and bobcats.
This eagle, though, wasn’t soaring overhead. It was sitting remarkably still.
I stopped in my tracks and held the dog’s leash tighter. I didn’t want her to lunge or growl or generally be an asshole, as she sometimes is.
The eagle was so still… as if it didn’t want to be noticed.
Perhaps it was stalking prey and would fly away when we approached?
Perhaps it was was injured?
I needed to see the eagle.
I needed to save the eagle.
It should have clued me in that my dog, stupid enough to have attempted in the past to chase flying birds and wild geese, seemed entirely disinterested.
I didn’t need to approach so slowly nor hold the leash so tight.
It’s possible I just needed a stronger prescription for my sunglasses.
As I got closer I could see the eagle wasn’t injured.
It wasn’t an eagle at all.
It was a log.
That’s right. A log.
Not a glorious symbol of our country but a basic piece of bark, felled from a tree and propped and sunlit in such a way that, from a distance, it appeared to have a dark feathered body and a white head.
So clearly… Not. An. Eagle.
I was stumped.
It was… a stump.
And I felt foolish.
How could I have misidentified something so obviously not what I perceived it to be?
And I felt disappointed.
I had thought I had stumbled on the extraordinary. And there was nothing extraordinary about it.
Just a branch from a tree. A bump on a log.
Time to move on.
But, as I said, when I walk, I take in nature, creative ideas flow, and I see story symbolism everywhere.
There is symbolism in my eagle-that-is-actually-a-log.
You see it, don’t you?
(The symbolism, I mean. Not the eagle. There is no eagle.)
Sometimes we see things as we’d most like them to be, not as they are. But up close the picture is not as impressive as we originally imagined.
Like envisioning that a new relationship or a raise will make you happy.
Or picturing how the grass will be greener in a new house or at a new job.
Up close we see more clearly.
What we thought an eagle may just be a stump.
Later that evening, in a total example of “there are no coincidences,” a neighbor shared an amazing shot of an eagle that had taken residence in a tree in her yard.
As I said, such sights are not impossible around here.
Yep, that’s definitely an eagle. Not just a log.
I couldn’t help but be a bit envious.
More story symbolism.
Sometimes someone else gets the eagle.
You might want it, you might think you see it, but you’re left with just the log.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep looking, keep walking, keep soaring, and keep hoping for the eagle to land.
Set your sights on what you want most and seek it out.
You never know what you’ll find.
Liked this article? Read similar story symbolism posts about the Ladybug in the Bathtub, a Dress with Pockets, and why a Big Splash is Best.
Valerie Gordon is a longtime storyteller, an award-winning television producer, and the founder of career and communication firm The Storytelling Strategist and the Commander-in-She blog. She’s a speaker, workshop facilitator, and trainer who helps teams and high-achievers through the power of story. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for info on her storytelling sessions.