Man Gone Wild

The idea of the word “wild” has taken a turn for the worse. It’s relegated now to grisly encounters with members of the ursine family, or a Cro-Magnon impersonator whose brawns probably once fed the entire clan but now demolish houses in the hopes of attracting swarms of avid admirers, or young girls exposing parts of their anatomy as if the idea of nudity just sprang from their loins. Maybe I’ve just a stray gene from EO Wilson’s idea of biophilia, where the interlocking web of life is essential to our own well-being if we are to be conscious of the rest of life. But that wild that’s temporarily gone to the tame dogs, is still with us.

Now you can call me an anachronism or any other long-syllabic euphemism — or you may just utter a short Saxon curse — but I think I can still find the wild where it most happily belongs. I found it today in Rockport Harbor. And it didn’t need a willing audience, just a simple appreciation.

It was an osprey wheeling in a raw blue autumnal sky. It was circling above the timeless sea searching for fish as raptors before it have done for eons. Nothing new in that scenario for the bird or for me. Except that the magnitude of its diurnal activity suddenly dwarfed any grandiose ideas I might be having about my place in nature. Here in the civilized and technologically advanced world of the present where I reside, there is still room for an osprey to act out the age-old rhyme of red in tooth and claw.

I had witnessed something wild and unknown to me without having to be titillated or shocked to a shadow of myself. The staggering distance that I alone felt between my existence and the predatory one of the raptor was enough of a jolt to make me watch it wheel around and around on its mocha-stained wings, its eyes ever alert to the smallest stir in the deep water below. What a gulf, I realized, existed between that bird and me. No amount of evolution could shine enough light to make me acknowledge the grand scheme that nature has for us in our DNA or in our environment. That osprey in its solitary swoops and arcs and widening gyres would someday die on a lonely promontory surrounded by water and never know a scrap about the civilized world in which it endured, and yet in a brief moment how profound its wildness spoke to me.

I don’t know if anybody else at the harbor saw the bird of prey. Maybe a wild fish eagle now is so commonplace that we feel obliged to seek with even more frenzy the borders of the unrestrained. I mean, who hasn’t seen an osprey? Who doesn’t know that it hunts it prey in the sea? You could say we’ve actually tamed the raptor with all the knowledge we possess about it so that its presence in the harbor plays as much significance now as the lobsterboat or the yacht — it’s just another part of the maritime experience.

And yet as the seahawk dove for a fish, the sharp arch of its long narrow wings displacing air, I somehow regretted that our genuine sadness over the loss of the wild world was in fact misplaced when it lives so near to hand.

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