It was only a handful of years ago when my father visited me at the beach and said:
Hey Junior… I read in the paper that people are seeing Peregrine around the Island.
My dad was a lifelong, avid reader and this was the kind of conversational tidbit he’d interject randomly throughout the day. I often found his vast and various knowledge of subjects you’d never expect him to know anything about to be alternatingly fascinating, or annoying, depending on my mood.
“What’s a Peregrine?” I asked, just to make conversation.
“It’s a large bird; a falcon. They were endangered and were reintroduced and rehabilitated along the coast. I guess they are starting to show up more on Long Beach Island.”
Though I had zero interest in birds, I alternated towards interest on this one: “I think I saw one of those yesterday! It flew right over my head on the beach, and was carrying a huge fish!”
“No Junior,” he replied. “That would be an Osprey.”
“An Osprey!!…” I repeated gleefully.
And with that six sentence conversation, my life was changed forever. I would become completely obsessed with Osprey by the end of that Summer. I began watching for the Osprey every day and trying to see what kind of fish each and every one was carrying. I spent hours on my roof trying to understand where they went with those fish. I named every different kind of grip an Osprey used to carry a fish (including “The Surgeon”, “The Sippy Cup”, and “The Sloppy Joe”). I had developed a full blown case of Osprey Fever within just a few months. And I shared everything I learned, proudly, with my father.
It would be another year before I would see my first Peregrine, and I’ll never forget that stunning moment. I was sitting on a crowded beach on a humid, overcast day in mid August when suddenly all hell broke loose in the sky above me. In the poor light I assumed it was an Osprey, but had already learned to trust my instincts when something just didn’t feel right. I took pictures of this spectacularly crazed and beautiful creature in the gloomy light as quickly as I could, and then sprinted home to my trusty Peterson Flash Guide To Atlantic Coastal Birds. I squealed with delight when I realized this was a surely a Peregrine Falcon. I immediately posted the story, as I have all my posts, to both impress and to entertain my dad, in the 2012 Reading Move Over Osprey, You Just Got Peregrined
Lady Katherine had become agitated the moment we set foot in the hallway on the 23rd Penthouse Floor of the Atlantic Club. By the time we made it to the large glass window along the back wall of the butler’s kitchen she was not only ready, but eager, to destroy us.
“You’re not seriously going out there?” I asked Kathy, knowing full well she was. “She just tried to fly through the window to tear my face off.”
My worst fears in this life are heights, birds, ghosts, and crime; in that order. I had already decided there is no way I would be stepping out onto that ledge. I would rather embrace my third and fourth largest fears, and be tormented by creepy mobster-ghost paranoia and strange, eerie noises inside the abandoned Casino. But now I was concerned even for Kathy’s well being. It only takes a tiny nudge to go over the edge, and Lady Katherine appeared to pack quite a nudge.
“It’s OK,” said Kathy in a perfectly casual and measured tone. “I have this feather duster.”
Lady Katherine was born humbly in Virginia in the early Summer of 1998. The average lifespan of a wild Peregrine is 17 years; 20 in captivity. At eighteen years, that gives Lady Katherine Ultra Grande Matriarch status. She was obviously ambitious, leaving her natal home at a young age and arriving on the roof of the Atlantic in 2002. She has defended her rightful place among celebrity and glamour for the last fourteen years, calling her 23rd Floor Penthouse Suite home for each of the fourteen years since. She is truly the Queen of America’s Playground, and has held control over The Atlantic longer than most of its many owners.
No proper celebrity would take kindly to a couple of tourists entering their Atlantic Club Penthouse Suite uninvited, and Lady Katherine is no exception. But if you look at that last photo carefully (click to enlarge), you might notice one very special reason why Lady Katherine is so especially cold and murder-ish on this particular morning. Here… let me zoom in for you:
Kathy proceeds to head out the window, along the narrow ledge, 23 floors high, armed with only a feather duster, to retrieve that tiny little monster who just happens to be more precious and valuable than any Jackpot the Casino ever offered downstairs.
And all while Lady Katherine pulls each of the many defensive maneuvers and strategies she has been fine tuning up there over the last fourteen years, over and over again.
Watching Lady Katherine’s determined attacks and hearing her harsh cries is thrilling, it’s heartbreaking, it’s inspiring. It is the pure power of a Mother’s Love on glorious display right in front of your face, manifested physically, and perceptible through every sense by which we can perceive. As I heard the woosh each time she flushed my face, and I felt her draft across my cheek, I swear I could smell her love for that precious baby monster… only in the inverse form of which we normally think. This is not the soft, gentle, and patient love of the classic Mother’s Love cliche. This is aggressive. This is do or die. This is urgent, this is decisive, and this is brave in the extreme. This is the mechanism by which life is assured to continue, by which the living world of complex creatures evolves. It is neither pleasant, nor easy, nor certain. It’s just real. And amazing.
As Kathy stepped gently back through the window and into the butler’s kitchen with a smile, I realized I had been holding my breath the entire time she had been out there. As she swaddled the young Falcon in a cloth and prepared her for her checkup and banding, the vibe changed completely. The room became just a little brighter, and considerably warmer.
We have referred to Kathy as the “Great Mother of All Cool Things In Jersey That You Can’t Shoot With a Gun” on Readings From The Northside for years. It is the greatest and most ridiculous of any of the many ridiculous titles The Readings has bestowed upon its many heroes over the years.
It is also the most true and well deserved.
At the age of eighteen, Lady Katherine is nearing her final season. She has already clearly beat Seinfeld’s record. It will just be a question of degree. We know she is near the end as she became infertile last year… a sad, sad loss considering she is one of New Jersey’s most experienced Peregrine Moms.
And so, at this point the dutiful and alert reader will surely ask:
But wait… If Lady Katherine is infertile, how did that adorable baby falcon get up on ledge of the 23rd Floor of the Atlantic, and why is she defending it with her life?
As it turns out, what was happening on that ledge was not at all what it might have seemed on the surface. It was not quite as simple as a mother defending her young from an intruder armed with a feather duster.
It was actually something more complex, more profound, more beautiful, and more awesome.
Out on the ledge was the story of a cooperative venture between two amazing creatures, of completely different species, neither of whom is the biological mother of that adorable baby falcon, showing us how the paths laid out for the future of the living are determined as much by spirit, and courage, as they are by biology and chance.
And crouching right behind them was a very overwhelmed beach bum, marveling at how a simple, random comment uttered by his father one otherwise forgettable afternoon would lead him to the celebrity, high rolling penthouses of Atlantic City to witness all this… and holding back tears at the sinking recognition that this is a story his dad would have really, truly, loved to hear.