About the same time that I was commemorating the life of an old friend, who had lived a good and fulfilling life and passed away peacefully, my beloved osprey nest on Hog Island, Maine was struck by a sudden and deep tragedy. Eagles dove in and manage to snap up both 2-3 week old chicks.
The hundreds of viewers from all over the world were devastated. Sharing the intimate lives of these birds, year after year, creates a deep attachment. This osprey couple has successfully raised chicks to fledge for at least three seasons in a row. The shock and grief at the chat community was palpable.
There was more to this than just feeling sorry for the loss of the chicks. For many the attachment and empathy is very real and the sense of loss was very intense and personal. A few of the more experienced viewers were able to put this into words:
For many, the Hog Island osprey nest was a “happy and safe place” where they could escape the fears, tensions, and unhappiness of their daily lives. When we heard of things going wrong at other nests, we didn’t really think that it would happen to “our nest”. This illusion – of this being the one osprey nest where life wasn’t fragile, the laws of Nature were suspended, was rudely shattered. And things no longer felt safe and certain any more.
The chicks and their parents were helpless in the face of the eagle attack. This feeling of helplessness mirrored our own feelings of helplessness in the face of “universal forces and destiny” as one viewer put it. Many people felt anger through this sense of helplessness and at the unfairness of it all.
But how did the osprey parents react? Some people saw grief and shock in their body language and I’m sure that, even though we don’t know how birds process loss, they probably did go through a sense of loss. However, their actions during the next days were that of birds simply enduring what had happened and going about their lives. They strengthened their bond, he brought her fish, they made additions to the nest, there were even a few mating attempts (though the hormonal levels this far in the season are far too low for more eggs). Rachel, the female osprey, perched in the pouring rain or the heat, as she always does, enduring the weather. They chased intruding ospreys off the nest and even chased an eagle together one day, smacking it to the ground.
We humans can make things endlessly complicated for ourselves, beating our heads over that which has already happened or that which might happen in the future. From the ospreys we can learn to accept life as it presents itself in the moment. Both joy and sorrow, both certainty and fragility.
One viewer wrote about this in her own blog, “It only makes sense that the delight I felt at beholding their trembling newborn lives would turn to anguish when they were taken. And so this is another sweet opportunity for practice.”
The nest will be filled with chicks again another year, both it and the ospreys will endure. Tragedy may strike again but this is a lesson in having faith, in practicing a certain type of endurance ourselves.
Note to followers of this blog: I will be away most of July. Blog postings will resume in August.