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The Mast-Head: Young of the Year

Thu, 09/23/2021 - 10:46

This is the time when the fledged osprey, the young of the year, learn to fend for themselves. It is only a coincidence that human children enter school now, too, some for the first time, others moving up from one grade to the next, with all the attendant responsibilities that brings. Each has a big journey ahead.

It is easy in the now-earlier twilight to catch oneself musing about such things. At the end of the weekend, I spent a little time at Albert’s Landing, getting a different perspective of the bay than I was used to, looking east instead of west. Pods of bunker moved left to right, slower than a single solitary swimmer who also came in from the same direction. A fish hawk, as my father taught me to call osprey, circled one of the pods.

It is hard for me to imagine what the bunker, as my father called the menhaden made famous in the Pilgrim myth, were doing exactly, flipping and splashing on the surface as they grazed up one kind of tiny floating thing or the other. Seemed like a lot of effort to me and sure to draw attention, but maybe that was the point in some giant, cosmic way.

My young fish hawk, as I assumed it to be, showed all the signs of youth and inexperience as it hovered too low then clumsily landed on the water, coming up with nothing to show in its claws. The swimmer got closer, another school of bunker in his path, the fish hawk circled overhead.

The few other people on the beach packed up their things and headed to a car in the parking lot. The fish hawk tried again. The swimmer kept moving southward along the shore. I watched until the mosquitoes came out, also hungry for a meal. The water turned orange and gray, a mirror of the sky. I lost sight of the fish hawk eventually, as it flapped away in the direction of Gardiner’s Island and the night sounds began.

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