The blue sky and gentle breeze greeted Ester as she emerged from her egg in a nest on an island in a lake almost as far north in Minnesota as you can go. Her mother and father peered down at her with blinking eyes, nustling away the broken bits of shell that clung to her. Soon she was surrounded by many brothers and sisters, all with mouths agape waiting to be fed. She and her siblings grew quickly and grew strong. Both mother and father hovered over each, quick to feed and patient with each chick’s unending demands.
Ester learned quickly. Her mother and father protected the brood with a sturdy, unbending determination. But, beyond the circle of her family the tragedy of desperate souls played out; brethren in pitched battles to save themselves and their young ones often failing calamitously. Ester was the first of her siblings to fly. Her extraordinary eyesight discovered all matter of food below. Although she remained with her family, she ventured farther and farther as her confidence and self-determination grew. She was a bird of decisiveness and understanding of her world. At a young age she strived to lead rather than follow.
Sam’s mother died shortly after his emerging. She was small and desperate to feed her brood. His father, a restless bird prone to fighting, was a poor provider. Each hatchling clearly understood that survival was waged as much in the nest as outside of it. Only Sam and his sister survived.
Sam’s father was a very large bird and Sam clearly took after him. It was not soon after Sam’s first flight that his father disappeared forever. Sam spent his first season battling the adults for food and jockeying for the attention of females. His size, intelligence and aggressiveness made him a bird to be reckoned with. It was not long in his second season, having survived his first by shear will, that Sam won the right to pick the eligible female.
The ice was out, just barely. Sam stood on the shore, tall and straight, guarding spring’s abundance. Many females had passed, nervous and without confidence. Suddenly a female landed, calling out. She stared at Sam with an unwavering glance. The warming of the land had filled out her winter hunger. She was a bird of uncommon beauty and strength. There was a palpable charge that passed between them. Sam approached. Ester remained, unmoving. Sam was puzzled at the feeling that jolted each sinew; an excitement he had never known. Ester was riveted by the vision of Sam. In her eyes he embodied the greatest of her species. There was an indefinable quality that made her yearn for him as he did for her. They stared at one other for timeless moments. Sam offered her the bounty he guarded. She accepted and from that time they would be forever linked. In their every waking moment each would fill a corner of their consciousness with the other, their lives so intertwined as to merge two into one. She was constant and tender, easing his anger and comforting him. He was courageous and loyal and shamelessly devoted. She would sacrifice herself for her offspring and he would sacrifice himself for her. They were willing companions forever, joyous in each other and in the beauty of the world and their creation. It was a remarkable, mystical transformation, a second emergence. They sang to one another deep into that first night until their voices filled the sky and the stars disappeared.
And so it was for many years. On this remote, fertile lake and under their stern eyes the young ones thrived. The children and grandchildren gathered each spring and fall so that they were a mighty flock, their passing a shadow over the earth.
It had been a particularly brutal winter and food had been scarce for everyone. It was time to return north. Ester observed how the seasons had left their scars on Sam. He was still a mighty bird but had grown slower and more deliberate, not so quick to fight and more tolerant of the young ones who challenged him. But still, he gathered his brood for the long trip home, his call echoing among the marshes and wet lands. There upon, there was a great rising of birds, a lifting off, a casting aside and a venturing forth.
As the multitude twisted north, Sam looked for Ester but did not see her. He allowed himself to slip behind his grandson, a large bird, intelligent and ambitious. Sam called to Ester but she was not among the gathering. Returning to his winter roost he found her, waiting for him, expectant, love in her song. He was puzzled. He circled her many times, flying low, calling to her. With great effort she lifted from the earth, following him as he traced the route they had taken many times. She fell behind and he would slow until she reached him. They rested frequently, each time for longer and longer. Sam patiently waited for Ester. He provided for both of them on their long journey home. They finally arrived. Their grandson had claimed the island that had been their nesting place for many seasons. While Ester rested, Sam scoured the lake for a suitable location. He came upon an abandoned nest, poorly constructed, but well hidden. He led Ester there whereupon he began the ancient ritual of building.
There was a fury in his actions. In past years Ester had been their driving force. Now, it was just he alone who must do the work of two. Each time he would return to the nest she would rise to the edge and call out his name. Each time, she grew weaker. Finally, with the nest complete and Ester safely resting there, Sam stood over her, calling out to her, willing his life force enter her depleted body. As night fell, Ester began to sing softly to Sam, like a lullaby, her sweet breath bathing him once more. Soon both their voices mingled in harmony until, late in the night, Sam fell asleep, the song of his beloved caressing him.
Sam dreamed of life’s beauty. Sam dreamed of Ester. He dreamed of long summer nights and moonlit skies, but tinged with a sadness that weighed more and more heavily until it awakened him in the early dawn. As he had for every day these many years his first thought was of Ester. She was beside him as she had been seemingly his entire life. But, her spirit had fled. She was no more. Sam rested his head upon her back for a long while. The sun gained angle in the sky and then descended, but Sam took no notice. As the moon arced above, his love songs to her haunted the night sky.
Sam sang his plaintiff song to Ester until the day he died. The pain of Ester’s passing seemed to diminish over time. But for every moment of beauty Sam witnessed, he did so alone. And, although it was at those times he most felt the absence of Ester, he welcomed them as they brought remembrances of great happiness.
Sam, like Ester, had the great fortune of dying painlessly in his sleep, his life’s work, his children, calling loudly to one another, one early spring night.
Of course, this is a love story, not tragic but filled with all the exquisite wonders existence has to offer. Life and love are great treasures, bounded by birth and death, their value sometimes best understood by the pain at their passing. Sam and Ester lived lives of undying love and sacrifice. We can look at Sam’s pain at the loss of Ester and ask this most important question, to which Sam would answer, if he could talk:
“I would gladly exchange my life for one more moment, to breathe her sweet breath, to see her gaze upon me and to hear her song when I call out.”
So, dear friends, may I wish your lives together be long and filled with the same love as Sam and Ester. Though your days are numbered, may they be lived in blissful harmony in a world of happiness, peace and beauty. And may you and yours multiply and flourish, casting indelible shadows on the earth each day of your passing.