In one sudden, graceful motion, it knifes its beak into the fish. This brings on another round of desperate thrashing, the terrible furor of life taking leave. Delicately now, the osprey turns the fish over with one talon, gashes the flesh again, lays the fish back down, and sits erect, watching the horizon. I can see that the osprey has pecked out the eyes; should the osprey drop it, which is unlikely, the blinded fish will be unable to escape. Still, the fish jerks wildly, putting up a determined struggle even as its body is being broken down. I am impressed by the precise, systematic surgery of the osprey's ruthless dismantling.
The osprey leans in, craning head to talons, and begins to pull hard. It twists off the fish's lips. A bright red stream of blood gushes from the side of the fish and streams down the trunk of the tree and pools in the crotch of a branch. The fish thrashes once more, a fierce spasm, and then it is over. The osprey tears off its head.
The bird opens its enormous wings and lifts off the branch. It disappears into the woods, tunneling into an opening in the trees. It will take its meal privately. I think of the poet Mary Oliver, who wrote: "Such beauty as the earth offers must hold great meaning."
Lifting my paddle again, and ignoring the twinge in my neck, I push off against an outcropping of red granite on the island. A breeze is playing across the water; a rogue wind is coming up. I have no idea how long the journey to the beach is; it might be only a mile or two, but it feels like ten. The anticipation of arrival elongates the miles. They are shorter and easier when I'm heading home. I know exactly where I'm headed: to the edge of the sea, that "strange and beautiful place," as Rachel Carson called it, a "marginal world."
It is a place I have returned to again and again over the years, to walk the beaches at all tides, to examine the boulders and eddies and coves along the way, to stir and poke and chase the tiny creatures that populate a continually changing place that is no place, really, more a condition. You cannot say, exactly, where the edge of the sea begins and ends. The tides are sculpted by moons, winds, and storms; they are by turns violent and subtle, yet utterly reliable in the rhythm of their leaving and returning. When I go to the edge of the sea, I marvel at the constant change, wonder at what has turned up in the swells. More than ever before, this tidal zone draws me with its mystery and movement and magic. I can never sit by the sea; I am always walking alongside it, breathing deeply the fragrant air, rich with ozone and drying seaweed. Strange to think of being grounded by water, but that is exactly what happens to me when I am near the ocean.
The edge of the sea has many voices, as I think of them, some booming, some frantic, some crashing. But the voice I respond most deeply to, listen most closely to, is one that whispers: a susurration of water riffling across clacking stone, mingled with breezes catching in the high grass of the dunes. After years of first finding and then finally hearing and understanding what that voice can teach me, I have just begun to accept the relentless flux that is the condition of my life, of all our lives. Not young, not old; not betrothed, not alone; thinking back, looking forward; not broken, not quite whole anymore, either. But present.
These are my intertidal years.