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Of Hummingbirds and Osprey

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Message Jan Baumgartner
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The small gifts in life are often the greatest treasures.  When life overwhelms, solace patiently awaits, right outside your door.

My house in Maine sits on a hill.  The weathered Victorian with its gray shingles faded from generations of sun and sea and salt spray, has kept court on this coastal slope since 1890.  It overlooks the famed sailing passage, Eggemoggin Reach, the pine buffeted Billings Cove, and the small teal-colored suspension bridge that connects the mainland to Deer Isle.

When we bought the house nearly 15 years ago, the bridge was the deal closer.  Moving from San Francisco, the tiny suspension bridge looked like a mini Golden Gate and promised to offer a remembrance of what once was, and what was yet to come.

Bridges are like that.  They offer hope in both tangible and intangible ways - a connection to something otherwise unreachable - whether solidity under foot or what promises to bloom from a simple handshake.

Life in Maine is not always easy.  Seasons, here, and depending on how fed up you are, either have a macabre sense of humor or are blatantly schizophrenic.  "Spring" brought violent storms weeks on end - and to ensure a good punchline - Mother Nature tossed most of them our way on holidays.  Following the St. Patrick's Day storm, which dumped eight inches of snow in a few hours, followed by torrential rains and near hurricane-force winds, my basement proceeded to flood - necessitating an emergency call to the Sedgwick Volunteer Fire Department.

Nine of the villages' most dedicated, trudged through my home, down to the flooded basement, and amidst floating furniture and tool buckets, and before my electrical systems blew - they had it pumped out.  In snow, wind, rain and hail, half of them gathered in my yard brandishing shovels, frantically digging up the lawn, removing the ice jam and allowing for a torrent of water to gush from the bowels of the basement.

The Easter weekend storm caught everyone off guard.  Even coastal Maine saw 18 inches of heavy, wet snow.  It took hours to dig my way out, dig out my car, solidly encased in a hillock of frozen white stuff.  While hurling shovels of snow over my shoulder and swearing like my life depended on it, I heard something foreign laced in between the wind and sleet and slew of curse words.

It was enough to make me stop, take a deep breath, and from my ice-covered lashes, look up into the bare limbs of the crabapple tree.  Sitting on a nearby branch, where buds and blossoms dared not yet breathe, a solitary male cardinal sang out against the storm, defying the gusts that teased his brilliant red feathers into a mottled fluff.  He sang and chirped and gurgled his way through a wonderfully hopeful love song - his prospective mate, hidden somewhere close by, no doubt swooning to his remarkable melody.  

I felt the frozen rain on my face give way just enough to allow my brow to unfurl.  A small grin unfolded, the unlikely budding of a winter blossom, and a welling of joyful tears came easily and without resistance, offered in humble gratitude to this lovely red bird who not only sang for his mate, but for me.

Not a week later, another storm hit Maine causing millions of dollars in damage, particularly along the coast, where trees were downed, roads washed away, towns flooded, and the top wind gust in all of New England was here, in my diminutive coastal hamlet, topping 84 mph.

I dreaded looking at the calendar, fearful of upcoming holidays and observances.  As we approached Administrative Professionals Day, National Arbor Day looming ominously a week thereafter, I was getting nervous - the only thing we hadn't yet experienced was an invasion of locusts - and quite frankly, that didn't seem so far fetched.

Seasons in Maine can be harsh; some are fleeting, if they exist at all.  From record breaking snowfall in April, to just weeks later, a lawn needing mowing and sprouting dandelions, to warm ocean breezes and brilliant summer-like days, time has slipped from winter to summer, seemingly overnight.

And always, through it all, the wildlife outside my windows and doors has kept me focused and grounded, even when life teeters on overwhelm, despair, and uncertainty.

For me, however, what has always been the harbinger of spring or summer, is the anticipated arrival of the osprey and the hummingbirds.  Early May, the first of the osprey return - to their nesting site from years gone by - and after their miraculous journey from Central and South America.

The arrival of the osprey, and one pair in particular, is especially poignant for me.  Just next door in a tall pine, and from my bedroom window, I can see their immense nest - an architectural gem.  This nest was built, torn apart, blown down by violent storms, and rebuilt, year after year.

I love the osprey, as did my husband, and the building of this nest and the generations of osprey that have fledged from this home, is a gift that I will carry with me, always.  This nest was first built in June of 2002 and on the morning my husband died.  In these nearly five years, this pair has come and gone, always returning to set up home and raise their young within sight of my windows, my deck, my home.

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Jan Baumgartner is the author of the memoir, Moonlight in the Desert of Left Behind. She was born near San Francisco, California, and for years lived on the coast of Maine. She is a writer and creative content book editor. She's worked as a (more...)

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