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Lessons On an Empty Nest

Building a safe place to launch lives

My youngest daughter, Alyson, recently graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in politics and government and a part-time job with a non-profit in D.C. — plus hopes and plans for changing the world. How had this happened, I wondered, how had time tracked me down and pushed me along, insisting that I move it, move it, ready or not?
    As the mother of six, there were times I daydreamed about an empty nest. I was guilty of wishing time along, dreaming about all the things I could do once I was done with my 30 years or so of child-rearing.
    Then my thoughts turned to the uselessness of empty nests, their work done: chicks hatched, nests deteriorating.
    In the midst of ruminating, I cleared my mind by walking our family dog, Frosty, to the community pier.
    There, among the tangle of bushes and poison ivy and stunted trees, I thought I saw a bald eagle. The bird proved to be an osprey. Osprey are beautiful, but I’ve seen so many the novelty is gone. Just then, however, I spotted a second osprey, perched in another stunted tree. I studied the scene more closely.
    One bird flew to the pier and stood for just a moment on a piling. The end of the pier, perhaps four feet wide and six or eight feet long, was covered with pile after pile of a mess: It looked like piles of laundry in my kids’ rooms. The pile covered half of the end of the pier.
    Finally I ventured down to the pier. I pulled Frosty’s leash close, not wanting him to challenge the osprey.
    In the midst of the piles, which were actually laid out in a circle, were two beautiful brown-spotted eggs, pushed close to the thicker side of the mess. I stood still, waiting for an osprey to come after me. But the pair continued to soar along over the water and in the stunted trees, eyeing me, but not chasing me off.
    I sent a few pictures to my mother, who enjoys watching bird cams on the web. “What’s wrong with these osprey?” I texted.
    “What a disorganized nest,” she replied. “They must be a new pair. It will take them a while to get it right.”
    Next, I tweeted a photo to Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The reply was that I should carefully and immediately return the eggs from whence I had taken them. I tweeted that the eggs were in their nest and asked if the department would help shelter them.
    A few days later, I asked my husband to help. We’d had a hard, windy rain, and I worried that the semi-nest and its eggs might have blown into the river. Erik reported that all was well. He took several photos of the osprey soaring around the site.
    Finally, I decided that between the nonsensical nest and the flying-around-the-block birds, the eggs could certainly not be viable. But when I next visited, one bird was sitting on the eggs, while the other kept watch from the stunted pine.
    I do not know when or if those eggs will ever hatch, or how long the osprey will stay. I do not want to transfer my emotions to the birds. But perhaps they are hopeful that their crazy nest will get them by this first year. Next year, with the practice run behind them, perhaps they’ll figure out how to make the nest thicker, build a bottom layer and put it on a piling.
    Lucky osprey, I thought, to get a do-over after each empty nest, to have a chance to perfect it in ways that would guarantee its chicks the best possible start in the often-hostile environment we mistakenly refer to as Mother Nature. Lucky me, too, to have lived in this nest long enough and safely enough to launch so many lives into the future.