I Think It Was A Hawk
I pulled in, turned off the engine of the car and in the quiet that snapping off the radio made, I heard the sounds of calamity only I didn’t know it yet. I was still in the space of reorienting before anything concrete set in. It was a short pause, a brief gap of time when things stop and all there was were the peculiar sounds, messy noises I couldn’t identify. Curious and I admit it, a little alarmed because the sounds were unfamiliar, I rushed to greet them.
What I saw when I peered around the back of the car and moved closer were hundreds of small white feathers littering the street. Underbelly soft, powdery, breezy feathers still waving and fluttering just a little bit. Almost simultaneously, I felt and heard something strong, rushing and powerful. I looked up to see at the last possible second, what I am pretty sure was a red-shouldered hawk flying off with its prey dangling. It must have been the force of its wings I’d heard. I didn’t get a good look at the details because everything was moving so fast, but I did register a beautiful expanse of tail. It was almost but not quite hiding an additional bulk of what looked like a second body. The tail spread over the evidence like an inadvertently telling yet failing disguise. Yep. There seemed to be two joined bodies flying away as one. It was nonsensical.
And then I saw the crow. She was gazing down at me from her perch on the power line. We had an exchange. Crows know just about everything that’s going on so I figured she knew what had just happened, had seen it all.
Out loud, I found myself apologizing for the hawk. Said I was sorry because it was true. I was. My heart was cracking as the story was revealing itself to me bit by bit. The tale of whoever that had been now fluttering on the ground reduced to only a pile of feathers left behind. The crow answered me. She said, “Heck!”, “It wasn’t one of mine.”, seeming not to care, as if she were neutral, merely an observer, and maybe, being a crow, a bit judgmental.
I took it in. The air was oddly changed. I was a little stunned by the aftermath of a life suddenly and brutally interrupted, briskly destroyed like that. Carried off with no time to prepare, any attempt at survival conquered. I felt how terrifying it would be to be the one whisked away, frozen, stuck in the claws of an unhappy bird-like destiny like that. I felt the quick rush of adrenaline, of fear and sorrow. I suppose that’s why I apologized. As if I had anything to do with it.
Waiting, adjusting to the situation and taking it in, I seemed to be part of a messy triangle of characters drawn on ground and air. A wide and wavy shape made of connected points. Two actors (the hawk and prey), two observers (myself and the crow) and the fallen collateral- not insignificant stage props (the downy little feathers) situated lightly on the ground, the fragile residue of failure and success depending on whose perspective you viewed it from. The harsh high-pitched cries, feathers on asphalt, the undeterred hawk grasping its prey, gone swiftly. Leaving me and the crow to face each other. I almost wondered if I’d imagined it. Between the time I pulled in to park and got out around the car it had begun and ended. It played out quickly, just so fast. What next?
My parting, lingering view was of my partner-witness, the crow on a wire, a judge in the skin of a bird watching with that keen eye crows have. She wasn’t offering me any information or any solace. She wasn’t interested in soothing me. But her presence did anyway. I stood still for a few moments before I walked away into the house soaking in the drama and wondered if it had any special meaning for me. Inserting myself into the story, I wondered; was there something in this for me?
The possibility of significance and the longing for it pushes into me like a habitual requirement. I feel it’s got to mean something only I don’t know what. I want ceremony. I want meaning. But each of the options I rifle through are corny and obvious. Too trite and clearly contrived to be helpful. I’m a little shaken. Tears well up and I’m shaky, sad for whoever it was carried away within the vibration of that scream, with only the debris left behind as proof of existence. But I’m also wonderfully moved by having this encapsulated glimpse into real life. I cry easily when that happens or when I feel the truth of something. It’s a welcome sensation. And at the same time, the violence caught me off guard and leaves me feeling a little bit like it happened to me.
I think about that crow keeping watch. They keep watch on our house and it seems that they know exactly what’s going on inside and outside. Maybe this one had some wisdom to give me about what just happened. She wasn’t letting on, though. No generosity. No clue. The message or lack of one was mine to discover. Or not.
The whole thing causes me to feel an extra boost to the sadness that was already in my bones. Paired somehow with that hawk’s meal and at odds with the crow who didn’t seem to care as much as I thought she should. I wonder when things will start to improve. It’s something I wonder quite often and then remind myself gently I don’t need to do that.
There’s a line in a Leonard Cohen song that is a constant companion. “Ring the bells that still can ring.” I ring through my life with its small things while taking note that the ringing isn’t always what I think or expect it might be or even what I want it to be. I keep on letting those ringing instances absorb me and I feel how they grow. One at a time. Sometimes they take on the hawk’s killing screech.
The thing I’ll say quietly, the secret I have is that it was a thrill seeing this hawk do its job, living its life, procuring sustenance, maybe even for its own baby. I enjoyed being the witness caught into the maelstrom of the drama, feeling a part of it. So, as it turns out, the drama is a boost to the day. It’s exciting and an inspiration. I feel alive. In the field of death, and the distress of it there’s excitement, things to marvel at. The stuff of being privy to what we sometimes see as the dark side of life. Or the things of nature that are usually hidden from us. It’s always going on. The ritual of searching, killing and eating. Craving and nourishment. Soothing, wise company. Beauty and wonder in darkness. In the bright sunlight too.
When it’s over, I think what I might love best is that the crow and I paid attention to each other even if the circumstances were a little awkward. Squirmy as it may have been, we were there together, both witnesses of a thing and I have a thing for crows. Ringing some bell in each other’s presence like it meant something. I don’t know what’s coming. I often don’t even know what just passed but I still have that old habit of looking for conclusions that might not matter.
And even now, as I wrap this up, I find I still want to declare something important about the hawk and the crow and the feathers. And about myself being in proximity to them. My attraction to the violence and my repulsion at the same time, the choices and the drama, fascination with the evidence of what’s left on the curb fluttering without purpose. Maybe as proof of death and of life or at just least proof of something. There I go again seeking for meaning where I may not find any. Or I may find everything I was ever looking for in one single feather, one single screech, one single crow’s eye.