I feel naked. Dressed in jeans, walking boots and a waterproof jacket, without my I-pod I’m not complete. The cyber world rolls on and I’m in another galaxy. My cigarettes and lighter are held hostage in the glove compartment of the car to be returned after we complete the nature trail.
I am too old for family outings. They should trust me more. It’s not as if I’m going to burn down the house while they are gone while lapsing in a drug induced torpor. There is just something unhealthy about being outside. We have evolved beyond the need to stare at insects.
We stop by the side of the trail. Leaning against a rail, we stare into a pond covered with green slime and fringed by reeds. The notice board tells us we should be watching dragonflies skimming over the water.
“There’s one!” Shelly points a finger at a cluster of pale green reeds.
I try not to look, wanting to be immune from her enthusiasm. I turn away and read an information leaflet for the hundredth time. Dragonflies are the fastest insects in the world with a maximum speed of 10-15 metres per second. And damselflies? Not the girly equivalent, apparently, but smaller, lighter relatives, less aggressive in the air.
I fold the information sheet and jam it in a pocket, reminding myself that I am not interested. They are just flies hovering over a pond! They are nothing to get excited about.
“Hey, Shelly, it says here,” I say, tapping the information board, “that dragonflies eat butterflies! They’re not completely useless then!”
Shelly casts hurt look in my direction and I although I refuse to feel sorry, shame prickles somewhere inside.
There is a building ahead, a wooden cabin. Windows at various heights fill one side of the room. Shelves are littered with sets of binoculars. Four telescopes of various heights are bolted to the floor and face out to the forest ahead. A large screen on a windowless section of the wall displays a single bird, perched on a branch, staring unblinking.
I look through the eye piece of one of the telescopes. It’s trained on a bird feeder fifty yards away. I read somewhere that with homeowners building patios and laying down gravel, wild birds were finding it hard to find worms and insects. Some species were under threat. Word must have got out to the bird population that there was food to be had here. I regret for a moment my ignorance of wild birds.
There’s flash of red. A body and a long bushy tail of a red squirrel sidles down the tree trunk scattering the birds.
“Shell, quick…come see…it’s a red squirrel!”
I swat away a young boy who wants the telescope. He lets out a wail of outrage, but I refuse to budge, waiting for Shelly to reach me. With one arm pushing the boy away, I drag over a stool with the other. Shelly claims her place and looks into the telescope.
“Wow!” Her voice is full of awe and wonder and, irrationally, I feel jealous. Age and maturity has not rubbed away her sense of delight. All I have is sarcastic cynicism.
A squirrel is just a rat with a bushy tail when all’s said and done. It’s nothing to get excited about.
I saunter through the shop part of the cabin, picking up objects, examining the price tags and discarding them swiftly. An open door beside the counter beckons me. One of the rangers is taking a quick cigarette and I inhale his smoke, dragging it into my lungs. I yearn for the car and my treasure in the glove compartment.
Drifting back through the door, I take up a pair of binoculars and train them on the osprey nest, built on the top of a wooden tower. A single bird falls from its perch, unfolds its wings, swoops low, and lifts high to soar above the nest. Outstretched wings lightly tilt and the osprey circles silently, black grace against a blue sky.
“Wow” I sigh.
He is lord of the sky, glorying in his flight. Resting and rising, he surfs the air currents. Nothing else matters – not hunting, not raising chicks, not chasing intruders or preparing for the long journey south. Nothing else matters but the moment.
I fall from my sullen perch, unfold my sense of wonder, swoop low to smile, and allow my spirit to soar.
Nothing else matters but the moment.
Author’s Note: Loch Garten Osprey Centre, Northern Scotland, on the edge of the ancient Caledonian pine forest, is home to a pair of breeding ospreys.
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