My mother and I watch an osprey circle the pond. White and black against blue sky. Powerful strokes. Narrow elegant profile. Every wingbeat enunciates the syllables of a blue sky showering the world with springtime exuberance. Each whistled single note adds to the crescendo sweep of the moment to come.
Hover. I hold my breath. There it is – the steep dive with talons outstretched, the splash, and the flap back up into the sky with a seized fish. The osprey flies directly overhead, its’ yellow eyes fixed down upon us. We look up and the world stops spinning. For one breath, there is only this. The reciprocal gaze.
What is it that binds us, one species to another, and a daughter to her mother? It’s late April and I’m helping my brother Rob, wife Cynthia, and niece Anna move my mother from a cottage to a cozier apartment with a fine balcony, here within her pastoral Maryland retirement community. In this shared moment with the osprey, I feel the entwining of kin more intensely. I glance over at my mom who I love so dearly, and then outwards to the wild birds that sustain me. Put the two together, and the result? Bliss.
Away from the frenetic sorting, packing, deciding, schlepping of boxes, unpacking, organizing, and upheaval, a peaceful lull descends. The pond is the place of halcyon, and home as well to the belted kingfisher that embodies the word “halcyon” in myth and in scientific name, Megacerle alcyon. In these last few days, I’ve watched a lone male kingfisher on morning runs and felt my spirits lift wth every familiar rapid rattling call. Far from Oregon, I’m linked to home by both kingfisher and osprey. We breathe in all that passes by. The osprey flies back to settle upon a high tree limb bursting with spring green leaves. Dozens of Canada geese rest on an island and on shore, occasionally erupting into a noisy cacophony of honking.
Walking along the pathway, a swallowtail butterfly flutters close by our feet to sip minerals in the pond side mud. Our words are few, yet our thoughts mingle in an easy comfort of a lifetime of connection.
Our conversation turns to Dad, who we always miss perhaps the most when in a place like this, where he’d be admiring the osprey and likely striking out beyond the beaten paths to circle the pond. Mom says then, “I know he’s smiling. He’s so happy you’re back and helping.”
Dad had that kind of smile that warms you from the inside. I’ve felt it many times since his passing in 2002, and always I smile back, sometimes quietly thanking him for still being there. Yes, he’s smiling to know that his beloved Cate, my mom, is living in this Collington retirement community of inspiring folks, like my mom’s friend Jean Getlein, the first woman Time reporter who once interviewed Jackie Kennedy. He’s smiling to know that mom continues to express her creative self in a memoir writing class, singing in the chorus, playing piano, and going to plays, the opera, and the symphony. Her friends are many and social life vibrant, since she moved here four and a half years ago from North Carolina to be closer to Rob and family.
As we turn to leave, the osprey slices the sky above the pond with slim and strong wing strokes. The whistled notes are spaced, measured, and pure. I’m flooded with gratitude for my mom whose almost daily conversations by phone across thousands of miles are such a vital part of my life. We cover the gamut of subjects, from the favorite recipe to matters of the heart. What is it that binds us, and lasts? Love, of course.
Happy Mother’s Day!