Hawk-time

H is for HawkIt has been a time of hawks.Everywhere I turn, it seems, these thrilling, strong raptors have been pushing themselves into my field of vision.As we rode mountain bikes recently on the trail beside the water tower, a smaller hawk — perhaps a Cooper’s Hawk, perhaps a juveline Red-tailed — zipped suddenly across my line of sight from left to right, mere feet above Brian’s red helmet in front of me. The bird continued straight across the pasture toward the University Farm as we dropped into the woods onto the Perimeter Trail.Some days after that, while walking the dogs in town, I spotted a large Red-tailed Hawk perched high in a tree on Willie Six Road. As Susan and I drew near, it swooped off only a little way, and landed in an immense old maple. We slowly walked closer, getting surprisingly close before it launched away back toward University Avenue.At that moment I remembered my drive back from Chattanooga, two days previously, when my eye caught a hawk on the ground in the interstate median, probably enjoying some roadkill. Only its head was visible, making it seem to peer over the embankment while traffic hurtled past.In her astonishingly good book H is for Hawk, published last year, Helen Mcgregor describes a European goshawk, a larger and fiercer relation of our red-tailed hawk. The hawk, which is in a rehab facility, suspected of being injured, was “Beautiful like a granite cliff or a thundercloud. She completely filled the room. She had a massive back of sun-bleached grey feathers, was as muscled as a bull, and intimidating as hell, even to staff who spent their days tending eagles. So wild and spooky and reptilian.”(Another mysterious part of this hawk-time: just before all these incidents occured, I had randomly come across Macgregor’s book while searching best-books lists. Did her vivid prose make me more attentive to hawks?)I don’t know whether there’s any meaning in this cluster of hawk sightings: it could be a random statistical grouping, or something could be going on in hawk-world to make them more actively visible. Perhaps the lack of foliage and of other creatures in midwinter, the dropping of the screen of green life that complicates the view and clutters the senses, reveals these athletes of the air to my eyes more often during this bleakest of seasons.Another possibility: in some forms of Native American animal medicine, Hawk is the Messenger. According to one source, “Hawk is akin to Mercury, the messenger of the gods. Hawk medicine teaches you to be observant, to look at your surroundings…Life is sending you signals.”Whether Hawk is Messenger or not; whether hawks are actually more visible now or merely the rewards of my paying closer attention, the expansion of my world which is gained by sharing space with these fierce predators only happens because I am out in the winter world, visiting their environs. The winter air is their domain, and I am a privileged guest.

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