I recently attended a memorial service for the late, great Pete McLain. In an afternoon full of laughs, tears, inspiration, and stories I want someone to tell me over and over again, one particular anecdote about Pete McLain’s amazing life-well-lived really caught my attention.
Two different speakers, during two separate stories, described Pete’s reaction to catching a Bluefish and seeing a Black Duck as if he was doing those things “for the very first time”. To think that this incredible man, at the end of an unbelievably productive life restoring our shore, still visited Brigantine and fumbled gleefully for his camera to capture a bird he’d seen in the same habitat thousands of times before is a testament to the purity of his passion, and makes me shudder with relief and understanding.
Almost every person who has ever had the misfortune of attempting to converse with me on the beach has grown quickly annoyed and disappointed at my absolute inability to sit still and not jump out of my chair each of the 20 or so times a day I am lucky enough to see an Osprey fly home from the Sea clutching a bloody fish in its mighty Talons. “How many pictures of Osprey can you possibly take?” and “Arn’t you bored of them yet?” are questions I’m asked more times than I care to count. The answers are “A Lot” and “No” respectively, and I answer them with my photos everyday.
But the life of the Osprey Obsessed can feel a bit lonely on occasion, each time the realization strikes you that some people out there do not yet understand just how cool the Osprey are and how a tiny glimpse into their precarious lives can yield more joy & understanding about our lives in this world than anything that’s ever come from the mouth of a human.
We can suppose if I set some $100 bills flying over the beach within reach, we’d see plenty of folks abruptly abort their conversations and leap from the chairs to capture the moment, and they might get a tiny taste of what the experience is like. But it would be only a taste. Our Osprey are priceless treasures and witnessing their magnificent lives on the Wild Beach can be an experience more valuable and lasting than anything you could do with $100 dollar bill.
Thanks Pete McLain. Not only for recognizing the incredibleness around us and working tirelessly your whole life to make sure it gets shared with the future, but also for confirming that I’m not a total nutcase. I hope this Reading inspires two things: first, if you have a driving passion, embrace it, follow it, nurture it and devote some time to sharing with as yet unknown, and even unborn, people out there in the world who feel the same way you do. Second, get out there and immerse yourself in the wild. We live in a mysterious world full of more questions than answers. Big, anxious questions. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? What are we supposed to be doing? What should we have for dinner? Thousands of years of human technology and civilization have failed to produce adequate answers and probably have pushed us further from the truths we really seek. But a single afternoon spent immersed in the natural world of the Wild Beach and contemplating the lives of the Mighty Osprey will set you straight in no time.
Upon returning home from the Memorial, I did what I always do when I’ve been away too long: headed straight to the beach to catch the tail end of the “Osprey Hour”. After an uneventful hour spent mulling over the stories I’d just heard, a single Osprey appeared on the horizon flying directly at me with a slow and seemingly intentional intensity. I captured this moment in the photo above and it is indeed my all-time favorite of the tens-of-thousands I’ve taken of this same shot over the past five years. And indeed, it did feel as thrilling, as joyful, and as interesting as the first time I ever witnessed an Osprey coming home to the Island from the Sea. It felt like the first time. It felt like the very first time. And I pray it always will.