Outdoor Writers Association of America
This Week's View

by Stephen A. Muth, III

January 17th, 1999

Where the Osprey Goes

A recent column here prompted Stephen to send the following article. We are delighted to print it as a Guest Column.

Working in an office pays the mortgage and grocery bills well, but that is not enough to live on. Schedules, meetings, deadlines and paperwork had choked out all but a last few fragments of my sanity. I needed to restore some sense of perspective on life. It was time for some fishing. After the mercenary drive home and dutifully eating my dinner, I found myself drawn to a favorite spot on a nearby creek that I have fished many times before. There are more exciting places with more fish and bigger fish, but I was not interested in them at the moment.

I started at the bridge where the manmade roadway meets nature's meandering creek, and walked along the creek's banks to a particular pool I had in mind. A wooded flood plain of mixed pines and hardwoods extends away from the left bank of gravel and sand. The trees absorb all but the loudest noises, and the gravel and sand make for easy walking. The other side is a hill of bedrock that dives down directly into the creek. Moss, weeds and small trees cling to the crumbling slope, living life on the edge in the truest sense. As the bedrock erodes, chunks of it, large and small, fall at random and are swallowed up by the flowing waters, creating the riffles and pools called home by the bass that I sought. Secluded from the hubbub of human activity, it is a place that nourishes my mind and soul.

My angling success was only fair that day -- a few small fish with foolishly large appetites. I returned the fish to the waters in which they belonged as I do all the fish that live here.

Contemplating possible improvements to my methods, a movement in the blue above me caught my attention. I raised my head to see an osprey on the hunt. It took full advantage of the breeze striking the hillside, circling between the updraft and a close examination of what lay within the creek. With great care and painstaking method, the osprey worked its way upstream, studying the water for a meal. For the osprey, fishing was serious business not to be taken lightly. Rather quickly, it passed over my head and the pool I was fishing. I told myself this was because it feared my presence, and not because I had selected a pool with few fish.

Soaking my line in the water and myself in the solitude, I let the tension of life's mundane struggles drain from my mind. I stopped fishing for a while to watch as the water tumbled thorough the riffles. A fisherman is supposed to "read the water" to learn where the fish lie in wait for their meals, but often you can learn more. The turbulence of the riffle spoke of the obstacles faced by the water in its natural response to gravity's urgent call, each disturbance at the surface a result of particularly large impediment to flow. After the riffle, the water's chaotic swirls and waves dissipated into the pool in which I stood. The slower waters reflected the woods and hills without any indication of previous tumult or what lay in its shadowy depths. I looked downstream from where I stood, to the next riffle in the pattern of alternating riffles and pools of various sizes that had started at the creek's beginnings. How many more riffles and pools were there until the creek eventually released its vitality into some larger body of water? I could not tell from where I was standing, but I was certain that the waters would pass through all of them. I continued my pursuits and caught a few more fish.

After a while, I again spotted my friend. (I decided the osprey was my friend because of the time and space we had shared earlier.) Returning from a successful effort, a wriggling fish was clutched in its talons. The fish was carefully held head-on to minimize the wind resistance. Not wasting any time, it flew a direct path following the creek downstream. Laborious beats of its wings were needed to maintain altitude. The osprey passed over my head without looking down. Burdened with its prize, it flew around a bend in the creek and to wherever ospreys go to finish their meals and enjoy some peace. ~ Stephen A. Muth, III

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