Friday, December 7, 2012

Hawk Eyes

Hello, my friend,

I saw FIVE hawks today. I'm not sure what kind--they all looked to be about the same size, maybe roughly osprey sized, but not ospreys. I got a good look at one and it was brown and white, with a white chest and belly, no stripes or spots. But the thing is, I didn't just happen to see them. I looked for them and they appeared.

I was not officially birdwatching. We drove up to my Mom's house today, the first stage in a brief trip to New York, and Chris was driving so I was free to look out the window. The road is mostly lined with forest, and at one point I saw a large lump high up in one of the trees. I thought "that kind of looks like a hawk. I'm going to look and see if it is a hawk." And it was. It's not uncommon for me to see hawks by the side of the road, but normally I see the hawk first and then I notice it; it's hawkishness impresses itself on my mind before I really see the bird consciously, so I have only a few seconds to really look--is that really a hawk?--before I pass out of view around the corner. This time I saw what could be a hawk, a potential hawk, an undifferentiated waveform of probable hawk, and I decided to focus my attention on it the way I might focus my eyes upon something, I focused and what came into focus was a hawk.

It seemed such a magical think, to evoke a hawk by looking, that I decided to see if I could do it again. And so I began scanning the trees, focusing on any largish lumps, and the very next time I focused on a hawk-sized lump it was, indeed, a hawk. Then I saw one again--three hawks in three minutes. All of them were doing about the same thing; sitting on tree branches facing the road, maybe waiting for something, maybe just watching humans or other birds. I saw smaller lumps in the trees as well--maybe some birds' nests, but mostly probably the drays (nests) of squirrels. The squirrels have likely moved out; I've read that grey squirrels often nest in deciduous trees in summer, but in the winter when these nests are exposed by leaf fall the squirrels move to evergreens or maybe people's attics. About five minutes later I saw another hawk, and then another. Have there always been this many hawks along RT. 113? Do I now have the ability to see a hawk whenever I feel like it? Or was I just lucky today? It almost felt as though the act of looking made the hawks appear.

It happens that way sometimes. At school, I expected to find superb faculty, and that is what I found, but I noticed not everyone there had the same experience--the complaints I heard generally concerned faculty members whom I did not know, so maybe it was just our program that had the best faculty and the other programs had to make due with more ordinary people. That is possible. But it is also possible I saw excellence because that is what I was looking for, while other people were not looking for it. I do not mean that I saw what I expected to see because I expected to see it. I do not mean that I projected something that wasn't there. I did not project the birds I saw today; those hawks were incontrovertibly real.

I've always liked hawks; I like predators generally, and birds have the trick of possessing a full measure of predatory glamor but in a package too small to actually engender my fear. Seeing a hawk is fun in a way that seeing a bear is decidedly not fun. My intersection with your life has further sensitized me to birds, multiplying my appreciation of raptors again. It is not that I have become a birder; the mad obsession of the naturalist has struck me in other forms, and the years find me more and more incapable of neglecting plant ID, while I can still let a bird go as simply "a bird." I doubt that will change. What has changed is that all birds are now important by proxy. It's like the way I notice if I happen to hear about the football team my husband likes or a news story about a place where a friend of mine lives. It's like if I keep an eye out for birds I might somehow see one you might like and send it to you as a present.

Towards the end of The Little Prince, the title character is getting ready to leave. He will not come back, so he is saying goodbye to the narrator. The boy explains that he lives on an asteroid that is too small to be seen from Earth, so instead his friend can look up at the stars and imagine that the boy is living on all of them, that they are him in some way. He says;

All men see stars differently: to thinkers, they are problems; to businessmen, they are wealth. But you shall have stars as no one else shall have them, for you shall have stars that can laugh.

One might say the same about birds. For chicken growers, birds are indeed wealth. To ornithologists they are problems (in the sense of puzzles, not burdens). You do not laugh much, though I've heard you chuckle occasionally, but you do smile a lot. It is an unambiguous smile, simple as sunlight. I do not know where you are; you might as well be on an asteroid, maybe you netted a star, one of that flock we call the Milky Way, and it flew off with you. But I saw five hawks today, and I thought of you.


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