The courage to begin


Janice Lindsay
Janice Lindsay

Pia the young osprey perched at the edge of a massive nest constructed atop a pole on an island in Maine's Muscongus Bay.

Alone, she peered over the narrow inlet between her island and the forested mainland, and to the wider bay beyond.

She flapped her wings and jumped, lifting herself above the nest, hovering, practicing. She wasn's yet ready, or thought she wasn's, to take that long step off the edge into adulthood.

Can's we all relate to her hesitation? Aren's we all a little afraid to take that first step into whatever unknown awaits us?

Pia was the youngest of three siblings. Poole and Pan had already fledged, to join their parents swooping toward parts of the world that remained mysterious to little Pia. They all returned at times, but Pia spent most of her time alone, watching, practicing, almost leaving but never doing it.

I know all this because – and here's where the Internet seems like a miracle – the Audubon Society had placed a camera next to the osprey nest at their Hog Island sanctuary. The camera caught the nest and the peaceful inlet, where Pia could see a few small boats moored below her.

Since before the little ones hatched, a community of admirers from around the world had gathered each day and night (infrared camera) to watch, worry, ask questions, and cheer the little family, just as if they were our own.

I joined the osprey-cam community while the chicks were still tiny, scrawny, and helpless, begging for food.

Rachel and Steve have raised other broods and are good parents. Rachel stayed with the chicks; ?Steve brought fish. Rachel tore off tasty morsels and fed them to the chicks, seeming to keep only the tough and stringy bits for herself.

For a while we feared that Pia would not get enough to eat, jostled aside by her larger, stronger siblings. But Rachel paid attention. Pia thrived.

We saw how carefully the little chicks watched their mother. They began to imitate her. They picked up bits of fish that she dropped. They rearranged sticks in the nest, copying her housekeeping chores.

Ospreys are magnificent: two feet long, wingspread up to six feet, hawk-like profile. Adults are dark brown with a black mask and pale undersides. The young ospreys have brown wings speckled in a pale, scale-like pattern. Ospreys live near water. The adult osprey searches for fish near the surface. When it sees one, it dives down feet first, snatches the fish, and flies away.

We watchers invested a little bit of ourselves in the family's lives.

Maybe we'se been the oldest, testing our wings while our younger siblings watched in awe and envy, as the osprey chicks seemed to do one day while I was tuned in. Maybe we'se been the youngest or weakest, trying to catch up. Maybe we'se? been parents, tending to a little brood, scanning the horizon for anything that might threaten them.

And maybe we'se been a Pia, poised on the edge of our own unknown: about to marry, buy a house, have a baby, start a job.

Early one morning, Pia perched tentatively at the point of the wooden perch that jutted out from the nest. She paced around a bit, facing first one way, then the other. She spread her beautiful powerful wings in practice flutters.

Finally, she took that one giant, irrevocable step. She dropped gently toward the water, then swooped up and up over the bay.

We watchers celebrated. Pia had found the courage to take that first step, the most difficult part of any adventure.

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