I’m sitting on our porch, watching two different sets of crows build two different nests in close-but-respectably-separate conifers. All around, I hear other, different birds — the bushtit pair that’s building a nest that I haven’t yet been able to find, the two chickadees similarly settling somewhere close, a bunch of house sparrows with their almost aggressively loud cheeps. Absent today are the goldfinch (I wonder where they are?), and despite the veritable chorus of varied thrush I heard Tuesday evening, today is bereft of them too. Perhaps in the relatively nicer weather yesterday they went to higher ground as they do.
All around, life unfurls and I feel myself a bystander on the porch, a funny little human presence just taking it all in.
On Tuesday, an impromptu joyride took me down the Willamette River to the new Sellwood Bridge. There, in the spirit of aimless wandering, I pulled over to the side of one of the new huge sidewalks just to look. Look at the old bridge being deconstructed. Watch the clouds and the interplay of light and dark that Portland spring is so good at. Hear the sounds of Oaks Park, our bitty waterfront amusement park, something that surprised me until I realized it’s up and running because of spring break.
And as I was sitting there just taking it all in, busy cars swirling past, the human world doing what it does, I saw a flash of movement, and there right above my head was an osprey.
(this was not the one I saw; this beauty was from my last year riding-after-osprey ride:)
I’ve been looking for osprey the last few weeks. Since September or October, as is the case every year, Portland has been osprey-less: they head down to warmer feeding grounds for the winter, some migrating up to 2,500 one-way miles to South America. But come March, the first few start making it back. Some will continue north and some will stay here to breed, adding to the nests they left last year and using the plethora of rivers around to satisfy their exclusively-fish diet.
I’m not sure why, but whenever they return each year it’s a big, big deal to me. It signifies spring, return, rebirth, new chances, the fact that nature still does as she does, at least in some cases. It means that despite our shortcomings and our pollution and our overfishing, there are still osprey and they can still survive. Somehow, if the osprey come back and stay, there is still hope.
So that single osprey over my head on Tuesday made me inordinately happy. It was by itself, and I assumed it was a male since they often arrive first to start nest-building. I watched him a long time as he made circles that managed to be both lazy and crazy powerful at the same time, steady, steady flaps in the wind, until he circled his way south out of my vision. I didn’t ever see a second one. But I know they’re on their way back now; there will be others.
Why do I bother putting this on my bikey blog? Because biking is what makes this possible. Because only when I’m outside with my senses awake do I hear the songs or wingbeats that remind me to look up, only when I’m outside do I see the littlest flowers on the side of the path working their way up even through the concrete. Only on my bike or on my feet do I smell the world, feel the rain. Because if I only ever got in my metal box of a car and drove myself from one interior space to another, I would never, ever notice this kind of thing. And that is a death. A slow, disconnected-from-the-world kind of death.
That is why I don’t own a car. Had I been driving my way somewhere, I would never have seen this crazy important (to me;) harbinger of spring. I would not get nearly so much joy out of the rainless moments, having endured all the rainy ones. I would be, always, in my own little air-controlled bubble, perhaps with brief moments of outside (who in Portland doesn’t use their car to go hiking sometimes?), but it wouldn’t be my large-scale state of being.
Why I don’t own a car? It’s the osprey, it’s the deer on the Springwater trail; it’s the newborn violets nodding their heads to the breeze, it’s all the pollen in the springtime headwinds that makes my blinking gritty and my tears run. It’s everything around me that reminds me that this isn’t just about us, about humans, about our petty little important things that we’re in such a rush to get to and accomplish and check off our lists. There’s a whole fucking world out there, and biking is just one simple way I can do it a little of the honor it deserves.
Welcome, osprey. I’m glad you’re back.