The lazy ‘s’ scallop, the meadow stream meander of the wing shape make it unmistakable. The white body and mottled brown wings of an osprey sails across the sky my 2-year old and I walk under. I point up and say “osprey. Look there an osprey.” The sun is bright and my son has not fully acquired a sky watchers skill of curving his spine and leaning back his head to look up so I’m not sure he sees it.
We’ve lived a year and a half now in central New Jersey—an urban space 30 miles or so from Manhattan. Our near daily walks show us nothing wilder, usually, than resident Canada Geese whose droppings cover every park lawn and bike path. I make a game of pointing out goose poop and stepping over it in exaggerated strides in hopes my son can keep his shoes clean-ish He likes the game and takes big steps too—though sometimes too big and into the next squishy pile.
The osprey is a gift. We see them but not everyday. Although I’m not sure my son sees the way the bird’s striking white-black pattern cuts across the fall sky’s intense blue, he hears the name. “Us pray,” he repeats, “us pray.”
Never before have I noticed that the 2nd syllable in this bird’s name is “pray.” Even though the osprey has been an important symbol in my life since I learned to identify it 15 years ago while living in rural northeastern Utah where it was nearly a daily sighting (in spring and summer) along with river otter, deer, elk and even moose (though not daily). And so often now thoughts of my semi-wild upbringing make me ache as my son and I walk along the Raritan river covered sometimes in a suspicious sludge and as I have to remind him again and again that—unlike the rivers and lakes at grandma’s—this river we don’t put our feet into.
But the Osprey reminds me that the Raritan still lives. “Us pray,” my son says and so we do. I, that I can find enough to love in this urban place wild with the human cultures of the world, but sick (sometimes dead) in non-human diversity. I pray the Raritan’s soul keeps fighting and mine too. My son prays in his way for endless cool sunny days when our outing to the park stretches out indefinitely and it seems that maybe we will never have to go back inside.