At Sunset

Happy 2016! I hope everyone had an amazing holiday and a safe new year.

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I spent most of my holiday week ping-ponging around central Florida, not because I was on vacation but because that’s where most of my family lives. I didn’t get a lot of downtime – who does, really – but I got to spend two evenings taking long walks on the Dunedin Causeway that leads out to Caladesi Island, a state park and nature area near where I grew up. The park itself is spectacular, one of the few completely natural areas left in that park of Florida, and I’ve been out there swimming and kayaking many times, but this time I contented my self with walking along the causeway, which is a sort of free for all beach during the day, with kids on bikes and paddleboarders and kayakers and general family-friendly mayhem.

As the sun goes down it becomes the province of the fishermen, who either cast from shore or wade into the shallows with nets, the rhythmic sweep of their casts echoing the steady lapping of waves on the beach. A few people linger, gathering to watch the sunset as it sinks below a neighboring barrier island. Shorebirds stalk the flats and the ospreys wheel overhead, scouting for the last meal of the day.

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When I was a kid, it was a rare thing to see an osprey. They were one of the many raptors impacted by DDT, and their numbers had crashed to the point that to see one flying around was like seeing, I don’t know, a unicorn. Or Santa. I distinctly remember being taken to see an osprey nest at a state park as a field trip, and the general feeling was that those might be the last of these birds.

Instead, though, DDT was banned and the populations began to rebound, to the point where a few years ago I sat on a patio with a college friend admiring a pair of ospreys tearing into a fish on top of a lightpost nearby, just going about their bird-oriented business. And to the point where I could sit two weeks ago and watch the sunset, while they swooped overhead, so close I could see their sharp eyes and the warm soft light play on their feathers, diving for fish and letting out sharp victory cries when they succeeded. They wheeled and dove and brought their spoils, small silvery fish, back to the nests where come spring they will raise a new generation, a set of chicks that won’t have to be watched by the wildlife people and schoolchildren in mingled dread and awe, as they teeter on the brink. They will simply hatch and grow and join the ranks, letting their bright cries carry on the shore wind, as the sunset watchers admire them in the golden light.

Just a natural part of the scenery.

Which is as it should be. And I count myself very lucky to have seen it.

 

 

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