For my wife’s birthday, I bought her two things. One was a one-year subscription to The New York Times—not just online but also the real paper—which, beginning that day, would be heaved daily onto our driveway by a newsboy every morning.
Later that afternoon, in a four-way Zoom conversation arranged by Chris’s three grown children to offer birthday greetings, the announcement of this gift was greeted with 10 seconds of silence. That all three of them work in the media business—HBO, movies and Vox—might have been the cause of that silence. But we don’t care. We’re elders, self-sheltering at the insistence of her three grown kids and my four. And for us, a physical newspaper is where it’s at.
The other gift I bought her was professional-grade binoculars, made by Viper for bird watching.
We live on Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton overlooking a panoramic view of the harbor from halfway up a hill, and often see ducks, swans, sea gulls, hawks and osprey flying around over, diving for fish underwater or floating along in the harbor. It’s quite a display of water fowl. And now, by passing the binoculars back and forth, we could see it all up close and personal, even through a rainstorm that was pelting down that morning.
“Have a look at this,” she said after five minutes. “We have an osprey nest out there.”
It sat about 400 feet away, on a platform atop a telephone pole dockside on the shore halfway across the harbor—a neat pile of twigs, branches and sticks maybe five feet across. It had probably been there a long time. And we’d never noticed it before.
“Hold it steady,” she continued. “There’s birds in it.”
I could see little white heads poking up and down.
“I don’t know if they are osprey,” I said. “Eagles have all-white heads. Osprey don’t.”
We spent the next few minutes Googling what we were looking at. We’ve all seen the platform nests around the Hamptons. They were built for our biggest bird, the osprey, beginning half a century ago. But that was then. Now we have an even bigger bird—bald eagles with white heads—grandly swooping around over the harbor. They are new to the East End in the 21st century. Almost a hundred years ago they were hunted out of existence here. And now, thanks to environmentalists, they are back. Lots of them.
Osprey are huge—wingspans nearly six feet—but bald eagles are monsters, with huge claws and wingspans over seven feet. Could a pair of them have kicked out a pair of ospreys? I asked Siri. She said yes, they could, and presented us with a story of a pair of eagles that did so atop a 100-foot pole on Jessups Lane in Westhampton Beach recently. Another story described the same thing along the shore of a reservoir in Alabama, and they are now a tourist attraction.
Chris and I and our dog have been taking walks through the natural habitat near our home to break up our self-sheltering every afternoon. We’ve gone up trails into woods, around Pussy’s Pond across from the Springs School, along the ocean beach at Georgica.
Shore birds circled high overhead. One was definitely an osprey, soaring delicately along through the rain. But we saw no eagles. And no little eaglets peered out of the nest. So, after a while, we walked back home, picking up the Times in its blue plastic bag at the foot of our driveway on the way. In the house, I built a fire and Chris started reading the front section of the Times.
My wife is my best friend. Happy birthday, dear.