By Jeff Keeling
The bald eagle rose from the Puget Sound shoreline, turned south toward me into the strong wind and rose against a steel gray morning sky. In its talons, a nearly black, whole fish at least two feet long swung sinuously, while a pack of gulls harried the larger bird.
The eagle turned toward Carkeek Park’s wooded bluff with the gulls swirling around it, attempting to reach a private spot to munch. Suddenly, it lost its grip on the fish, and the gulls dove to the ground in hopes of a free breakfast.
While this was probably tops among them, I witnessed other moments of natural beauty during a visit to Seattle last week. Much like this area, the city of my birth boasts an embarrassment of scenic riches, from the play of light on water to the majesty of Mount Rainier on a clear day.
But all that is dross compared with our human stories, and those are what I came to Seattle to absorb. My paternal grandmother turned 94 Sunday, and my maternal grandfather will be 95 in April. Both remain mentally sharp, and from them I collected reflections of nearly a century – stories I now have on record, a different beauty I can call up in my mind’s eye at will.
We muddle along in this physical world, and while we are occasionally privileged to experience its beauty amid the crass and crude endeavors of our days, even those moments are just backdrops to our stories playing themselves out.
My grandpa Fred McLucas, 19 years old and riding the Northern Pacific train across Washington state’s arid east, past rock and scrub and through holes blasted in the mighty Cascades with their glaciers and alpine lakes, beheld all manner of beauty. But it was 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt had signed the Lend-Lease Act and Boeing was welcoming young men and women in by the thousands from around the Northwest to help churn out B-17 bombers for our allies, and soon enough for us.
While he drove rivets on the hulls of those B-17s, native Idahoan Edna Robbins would become his “rivet bucker,” and would also catch his eye and his ear. Amid the backdrop of a booming wartime Seattle, they would court, marry, set up house and welcome my mom into the world.
Likewise, the searing beauty of a late summer day in 1939 at Washington State College’s football stadium in Pullman, was merely a backdrop to my grandma’s story. The brutal sun had driven away the fair-skinned, redheaded girl next to her in the stands, and Helen Berry noticed a handsome boy next to her. It was Clyde Keeling, my grandpa, who would later ask her to a “tea dance” at his fraternity. They, too, would wind up in Seattle, where both my parents were raised.
Through the years, Seattle surely shed her beauty into their lives. Pearly clouds were made luminous by sunset, eagles swooped on unsuspecting prey and Mount Rainier showed itself regularly enough, nothing if not breathtaking whether seen for the third or three thousandth time.
It’s a gift, but the beauty of God’s creation is in a sense “formless and empty” when our human stories aren’t there to enliven it. Those stories are worth capturing from friends and family before it’s too late. I heard many of them last week. It was priceless.