My arms ache, though I am not very far across the water. Taking the island that sits squarely in front of my house as a midway point, I give myself a rest. I balance my paddle across my lap, and as the boat drifts gently, I take an inventory of the other houses around the pond.
I've often wondered where home really is, for those of us (most of us) who don't live where we were raised or where we raised our children. I've finally decided that home is not necessarily where you live all the time; it is where you want to be when you die, where you want to be buried or have your ashes spread. Or perhaps it is the place where you feel most alive and true to yourself. This pond, then, is home to me, at least for now. I've come to accept that I can't count on anything to be permanent and it no longer matters. I know that if I ever leave this home, I will make another. If I ever lose my garden, I will plant another. What I crave is a place that slows me down and reconnects me with nature, the sea, the trees, the night cries of the animals. I picked this place to be my home; I wasn't born into it. I picked it, and now I have grown into it.
At rest in my kayak, I hear the commotion before I can find it -- the loud pumping of wings. I raise my field glasses up as I twist around in my seat, in time to see the huge bird, its belly flushed with the late afternoon sun. It hangs, treading the air, suspended in place, wings beating fiercely, neck craned, head trained on the water, and then suddenly the osprey plunges, feet first, into the pond. When it comes up, it is holding a fish, its talons gripping the writhing creature over the top of its back so that the fish looks like it is flying horizontally through the air. The fish thrashes frantically from side to side, swimming still, as it was moments ago when it was plucked from its path. Its blue-gray and white scales catch the light, setting off a sparkle of sequins. The osprey, now skimming over the pond, squeezes its fingerlike claws. The strong, thick talons pierce deeper into the gills. Blood streams through the sky.
The osprey flies heavily toward the woods bordering the pond. No matter how many times I have seen this deathly spectacle, it horrifies and thrills me. I have been given the honor of witnessing a sacred ritual. I train my glasses on the osprey as it comes to rest on the uppermost limb of a tall, gnarled, and leafless tree at the edge of a meadow. With most of its rotting branches snapped off by storms, it has become a piece of sculpture, the suggestion of a tree. Its bark has been polished smooth and silvered by winds carrying fine sand. Its jagged form etches a lightning bolt against the greenish black of the leafy woods. The bird sits at the top, proudly, I can't help but think, though it is only its nature to hunt successfully. The bird gives a few short, shrill whistles and then hunches over its prey. The fish continues the frenzied folding of its long, taut body. The osprey lifts one leg in threat, but the writhing of its prey is of no consequence; the fish collapses and dangles. The osprey gently lowers its leg, turns its head to look about, then lifts its wings, stretching.