An attentive year with the ospreys of Cape Cod, from the capable hands of Gessner (A Wild, Rank Place, 1997, etc.).
In the spring of 1999, the author made a resolution to spend more time with his neighbors, the ospreys. Once abundant, the fish hawk went into serious decline in the 1950s as a result of DDT poisoning. Then, due in part to the bird’s adaptability and ability to cohabit with humans to a degree, it bounced back from a mortality rate of 90 percent. Much in the manner of his earlier work, Gessner concentrates on the elemental facts of daily life on the Cape: walking, writing, observing, napping, being with his wife. Of particular importance to him is gaining a sense of place, of homeplace, and one aspect of that search are the ospreys, in whose revival he found a glimmer of his own recovery from cancer. This is, in effect, a calendar of days on the osprey watch: watching nests being built and repaired (including one with a naked Barbie doll woven into the woodwork); watching for nestlings, and watching as nestlings get carried away in the night by raiding owls; being witness to the courtship ritual known as the sky dance; recording the daily changes in the salt marsh. While Gessner includes much research he has done into the bird’s biology and behavior (relying heavily on Alan Poole’s work), he is more content (and better at) observing, waiting, letting the season deepen, the flowers bloom, the marsh come to vibrant life. And in the process, through his incessant poking about and hungry curiosity, he does approach a notion of place, perhaps never more so than when he attunes himself to “osprey time.”
A year well spent and carefully recorded: heedful, respectful, and filled with the romance of being out of doors.