“For many years, a family of ospreys lived in a large nest near my summer home in Maine. Each season, I carefully observed their rituals and habits. In mid-April, the parents would arrive, having spent the winter in South America, and lay eggs. In early June, the eggs hatched. The babies slowly grew, as the father brought fish back to the nest. In early to mid August, they were large enough to make their first flight.
My wife and I recorded all of these comings and goings with cameras and in a notebook. We wrote down the number of chicks each year. We noted when the chicks first began flapping their wings. We memorized the different chirps the parents made for danger, for hunger, for the arrival of food. After several years of cataloguing such data, we felt that we knew these ospreys. We could predict the sounds the birds would make in different situations, their flight patterns, their behavior when a storm was brewing.
Then, one August afternoon, the two baby ospreys of that season took flight for the first time as I stood on the circular deck of my house watching the nest. All summer long, they had watched me on that deck as I watched them. To them, it must have looked like I was in my nest as they were in theirs. On this particular afternoon, their maiden flight, they did a loop of my house and then headed straight at me with tremendous speed.
My immediate impulse was to run for cover, since they could have ripped me apart with their powerful talons. But something held me to my ground. When they were within twenty feet of me, they suddenly veered upward and away. But before that dazzling and frightening vertical climb, for about half a second, we made eye contact. Words cannot convey what was exchanged between us in that instant. It was a look of connectedness, of mutual respect, of recognition that we shared the same land.
After they were gone, I found that I was shaking and in tears. It was one of the most profound moments of my life.”
From Alan Lightman, The Accidental Universe (2013)