Call of the Osprey

By Linda O’Connell

Residents in all regions of the United States have had to deal with some type of destructive weather-related and/or natural disasters. My husband Bill and I have witnessed firsthand, damaging thunderstorms and the after effects of tornadoes, typical summer weather in the Midwest.

We felt heartsick as we listened to the news accounts and saw horrific images pouring in from the Gulf Coast region. Along with the rest of the nation, we’d been tracking a hurricane as it built in category until it slammed into land and destroyed homes and lives all across the South. While not directly affected, our loss seemed insignificant compared to the devastation residents were experiencing. We received news that our favorite vacation spot on a Florida barrier island had been decimated, the road had been completely washed away.

A few years later we headed south to witness recovery efforts. A park ranger nodded as we pulled up to the tiny temporary booth at the national park on a muggy summer day.

“Road’s been repaired for about a week now. Camping’s strictly primitive, no electric, no bathroom facilities, no dump station; water’s questionable, nobody’s here yet. You’re our first visitors today.” Her tone was as gloomy as the weather.

“We won’t be staying; we just want to drive through and take a look at the damage the hurricane did to our little piece of paradise.”

Nervous and uncertain about what we’d find, my husband and I drove five miles down the two lane strip of new asphalt. A few yards to our left, turquoise waves rolled up onto the white sandy shore. To our right was the calm bay where I used to walk barefoot and pray in the stillness of the early morning. I used to giggle at clusters of hermit crabs scampering into and out of their shells when I passed nearby.

Every summer, when we towed our camper behind us, I delighted in the breathtaking views of the bay and pastel painted, three story beach homes, hotels, and condos. The moment we crossed the toll bridge and turned onto the campground road, I’d suck in my breath at the vast gulf waters. This time, it wasn’t the seashore images that made it difficult to exhale without crying. It was difficult to fathom complete buildings reduced to rubble, still laying in piles on the two lane road. Swimming pools were undetectable as they were completely filled with displaced sand. The signs of recovery were still far and few between.

We turned into the first campground loop and saw a graveyard of skeletal oaks, pines, and tropical trees hunched from the severe wind gusts. Large bushes that used to be lush with tropical pink crepe myrtle blossoms – backdrops for many of our old photos –  were blasted white. Every single thing was salt-encrusted. Every single thing was dead.

On every battered campsite, electric boxes dangled, their doors open like mouths agape in a last shout. The camp store was boarded up; the cow bell on the front door silenced. Fifty feet of boardwalk pier, stripped of planks, resembled two long racks of picked-clean rib bones jutting out of the sand into the sea. Our red pickup truck was the only splash of color on that dreary day.

My husband and I exited the truck and wandered around aimlessly. I unearthed buried seashells which evoked so many memories. I felt that to keep one would have made me a cemetery thief.

Roaring waves slapped the shore and pounded a recognizable rhythm. I did not want the sea to drown out my recollections: recreation vehicles and campers in all sizes crammed side by side, strung with rainbow lights defining individuality and the delineation of personal space. In my imagination, I heard children’s high pitched squeals, the pierce so real, they echoed from palms heavy with burnished fronds.

I looked up at the top of a dead Southern Live Oak and gasped when I spied a pile of broomstick-thick branches woven into a nest as deep and wide as our comfortable, overstuffed, living room chair. I nudged my husband and pointed. “Bill, look up there!”

A fledgling osprey poked its head up and ventured farther out of its nest. It fluffed its downy feathers and screeched at us. Reassured by the call of its parents perched a branch over, the young one snuggled back down into the safety and comfort of its dwelling. The male osprey puffed up its chest like a sentry and blared a warning. For a few moments we stood on that barren ground and ballyhooed with giddiness, echoing one another. As we photographed the birds roosting just below the heavy cloud ceiling, a single ray of sunshine pierced the cloud and spotlighted the ospreys.

I learned so much by observing the birds of prey that day. Trusting a fork high atop a dead tree to support their huge nest, they had persevered, built a shelter, and started over. I received an up close glimpse of what determination, hope, and renewal means. I felt privileged to witness a new beginning instead of an end. New life instead of death.

Observing the ospreys taught me valuable life lessons. Perseverance and resilience are essential to rebuilding, one step at a time. With a foundation of faith and determination the spirit is bigger than adversity, and life does go on, regardless of the storms one must weather in life.

About this writer

  • Linda O’Connell

    Linda O’Connell

    A preschool teacher for almost four decades, is notorious for holding her life together with duct tape and humor. Her greatest loves are family, the beach and dark chocolate.

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20 Responses to “Call of the Osprey”

  1. Very well written piece, Linda. From your descriptions, I was almost there with you, and I can understand your feelings at seeing all that devastation, where once there were happy people on vacation in that once beautiful place. I do hope they will be able to rebuild it and start anew.

  2. Linda–I enjoyed your story. The way you worded it, I could see the beach and the ocean.

    I hope you get to return soon, and I hope your piece of heaven looks like it did many years ago.

  3. Lisa Manzo says:

    Linda’s words continue to inspire me.

  4. gerry mandel says:

    Once again you have managed to uncover a note of hope and enlightenment in the darkness. Maybe that’s the point of living in the moment – to be aware of things happening now and, as you so beautifully described, take heart. As always, I enjoy your writings.

  5. Bobby Barbara Smith says:

    I loved the lesson learned. New life has a way of shifting our focus away from loss and towards hope. Great work!

  6. Kim Lehnhoff says:

    As long as we shelter during the storm, holding onto hope that the sun will shine again, rebuilding and reinventing is possible. The ospreys know that, and have provided a nest for the next generation.

    I hope you return to your piece of paradise and find it teeming with life.

  7. Pat Wahler says:

    Lovely story of hope and inspiration. It’s a message we need to be reminded of these days – and as often as possible!

  8. Patricia Bubash says:

    A profound insight via nature. Perservence and resilency such valued virtues. I enjoyed your analogy to the osprey.

  9. Steven Langhorst says:

    When we are faced with the worst circumstances the options we have are hope or despair. Linda shows us that even when all around is wasteland with no promise, hope can be found. Without hope the desolation wins. Linda uses clear images to picture the despair and the hope. This little story made me feel hopeful.

  10. Dianna Graveman says:

    I enjoyed your descriptions, Linda. So happy our little Florida home mostly escaped the wrath of Irma last year, but your story serves as a reminder of what might have been.

  11. Beautifully written, Linda, and so true. Resilience and faith will weather the storms!

  12. Dorothy says:

    Great story and great reminder that life goes on!

  13. Donna Philips says:

    A hair raising description of a frightful event. Thank God for the resilience of nature and the hidden life within.

  14. Donna Volkenannt says:

    Very inspiring slice of life!

  15. Rose Ann says:

    I could feel the desolation, and then, the moment of hope and positivity. Beautifully written–makes you stop and think . . .

  16. alice muschany says:

    Linda, as usual, your visual descriptions placed me at the scene both in your delightful memories of breath takings views of past vacations and at the devastating destruction caused by the hurricane. And as usual, you found a way to lift my spirits at the end of your story. Your positive attitude always shines through.

  17. Erika Hoffman says:

    There are many lessons taught us by the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees about the ebb and flow of life. Very well written essay!

  18. Val says:

    Well done. For a few moments, I was at the beach, hearing the waves, watching an osprey. That is what stuck with me, rather than the destruction. The hope, not the despair.

  19. Connie says:

    Inspiring and encouraging story, Linda. I’m glad you still have your memories of your little piece of paradise before the storm came.

  20. Another beautiful Linda O’Connell original. Reads like a prayer.

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