The early evening sun casts a dappled pattern on the far bank of the river. As I scan the patches of light and shadow, a tiny white dot catches my eye. I squint and, yes, decide it is an osprey’s head. The bird is perched on an alder snag that stands on the riverbank.
I hesitate to call attention to my discovery. Just last night I assured my husband, John, that a majestic elk was lolling right below this snag. We both stared silently, for a long time, at the beautiful, stationary animal — before finally realizing it was a shadow. Later, I wondered if the glass of wine I had just consumed added to this deception.
With the naked eye, the osprey appears to stand still. But add the binoculars and it’s clear his head is constantly moving, scanning the shallows of the river for fish. His hawk shoulders stand tall, his whole body vigilant. He probably needs to bring dinner home to his nest where chicks and their hungry mother await his arrival.
I love this bird. Wild, discerning yellow eyes, feathers sticking out every which way, and a heavy, awkward wingbeat that reminds me of the oars the first time I tried rowing a raft through the rapids.
The osprey stays on his perch for nearly an hour. His patience comforts us. As we watch him from a distance, we settle in and get quieter, our conversation a little softer. We’ve been soothed by the gloaming: the sound of the freely flowing river, the evening dance of the swallows overhead, the dying of the light and the sipping of a glass of wine from the nearby vineyard. Only when I pick up the binoculars and see the osprey’s acuity do I realize he doesn’t share our nearly meditative state. He still needs to provide dinner for his brood. The contrast of the view of him from a distance to that seen through the binoculars seems an apt metaphor for so much of my life right now. Stepping back and taking the long view, I feel a sense of peace. But looking close at the details, there is much to be hawk-eyed about.
The osprey startles us when he swoops and flies downstream a foot above the river. So fast, so keen. We expect him to dive into the water and emerge with a fish in his sharp talons. But not this time. He circles back up and resumes his perch on the alder snag. He resumes his vigilant watch.
Eventually, the darkness closes in and we gather our things to go inside. The osprey seems to take a cue from us. He flies from his perch and heads upstream. We wonder at the family drama when he gets back to his nest with no dinner.
How incredibly challenging to face this hunt every evening. How debilitating to return empty-taloned to family. But like this wild creature, I know that hatching little ones means making a pact with both patience and perseverance.
The next evening as we settle onto our deck with a glass of wine, my gaze crosses the river. The tiny white dot again catches my eye.
Anne Batzer lives in Sams Valley.