Friday, April 08, 2011

Brother Eric and the osprey


On Monday, Brother Eric was driving slowly toward his home along the winding lane that leads from the electric gate that guards the entrance to his community in Eugene, Oregon.  He was talking on his cell phone as he drove.  It was late afternoon and the sun cast slanting beams of light, west to east, across his path.

As he cruised past one of the many decorative fountain ponds placed throughout the community, he caught a sudden rush of motion in the corner of his eye.  A swift, violent downward strike, a splash!  He turned his head and saw an osprey rising from the water, a bluegill sunfish gripped in its talons.  The fish gaped, dead-eyed, nose pointed forward.  The osprey, carried forward by the thrust of its dive, strained to rise, but seemed headed directly into the front fender of Eric's car.

Eric let go with a "What the f*ck?" (no doubt to the confusion of the person on the other end of the phone).  He slammed on the brakes.  There was a thump as something struck the car, and then, in a frozen instant, Eric saw the osprey, unharmed and in full flight, inches from his face, the windshield glass between them.  In the next instant, it was gone.

Bluegill at peace

When Eric got out to inspect his car, he saw fish scales on the fender.  And, sure enough, the dead bluegill was lying on the pavement, where the osprey had dropped it in the effort to avoid colliding with the car.

Although this was not the first time he'd seen it, this was as close as he'd ever been to an osprey taking a fish.  The half-dozen or so events he'd seen before occurred while he was hiking or fishing in natural settings.  This encounter, with the raptor coming within a foot of his person, occurred while he was in his car, in the middle of a residential area.  The irony was not lost on him.

"It's a once in a lifetime thing," he said.  "I've spent all my life fishing, hiking, and spending time in the outdoors.  The thing that happened with the osprey was magical.  It was positive.  I view it as an acknowledgment."

"An acknowledgment of what?" I asked.

"Of me.  Of who I am," he replied.

It is easy to see why he would view the incident in this way.  The osprey is a perfect totem for Brother Eric, the fisherman, the outdoors-man.  Osprey have exceptionally keen eyesight.  They survive by fishing.  (Osprey inhabit six continents, making their homes near lakes, rivers, marshes, mangroves, and seashores). 

"But, if it's an acknowledgment," I asked, "what is the source?  Who or what is acknowledging you?" 

"I don't know," he replied.  "Nature?  Earth?"

"God?" I asked.

"I wouldn't call it that," he said.

Eric, after all, has never had much expectation about benevolent super-beings.  And yet, in order for the incident to be significant, it must have been the result of some guiding hand, some expanded consciousness.


"Is it an acknowledgment, then?  Or is it an omen?" I asked.  "Does it portend something?"

"I don't know," said he.

And there it lies.

So, we'll remember this incident.  And maybe, years from now, with time-deepened perspective, we will draw conclusions, recognize its synchronicity with other as-yet-unrecognized developments in Eric's life.

I believe that human beings long for the reassurance that comes from belief in a higher power, a guiding hand, a Grand Scheme.  I suppose it is possible that Eric's encounter with the osprey is nothing more than a combination of random circumstances.  But there is no way to know for sure. And, if we can't know, why not choose to believe that which provides the most solace?

Isn't it better that way?

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