This morning, the blue jays screamed outside my office window. This was different than the usual gab fest while gobbling corn as the sparrow mafia swarmed around the feeder.
Today was a warning and as I looked up, a hawk stared back. There was 10 feet between us and a pane of glass. She calmly perched on a thorny branch of the hedge as the sparrows huddled underneath. Like watching the girl in the nightie creep down the stairs with a flashlight, I knew what was going to happen next.
A moment or two, then the hawk dove into the bush and popped out with a sparrow squirming from her talons. Easiest kill ever.
The sparrow fluttered a couple of times and I wanted to help her but it was a foolish impulse. Understandable, yes — but the hawk played fair and square. I mean, let’s face it: the feeder is a veritable buffet line for raptors. I wanted to say, “Stop! You can’t!” but I eat hamburger, so that was that.
My heart seized up but not in a rush-out-the-door kind of way. This was Nature at work and I was lucky enough to be the uncomfortable viewer. I couldn’t save the sparrow even if I tried, and the hawk needed to eat. She visited once before, sitting on the deck with a mouse squished under her. It was like watching the bird version of my Zoey proudly presenting all of the beheaded mice from the basement. After awhile, I learned to congratulate her, rather than rip them from her mouth.
I wasn’t about to lecture a hawk.
Hawks — the messenger — are special to me but I rarely see them this close. The last time was years ago, the night before my Mom died. I had just dropped my brother off at a hotel and wove through the vaguely familiar neighborhoods of my youth. As I turned the corner of yet another split-level development, something caught my eye in a random front yard. It was a enormous hawk tearing up a squirrel. I pulled over and climbed out of my car, expecting him to fly off — but dinner was served and he wasn’t going anywhere. Machines raced around me — the constant, frantic flow of suburbia — but the hawk continued to eat, indulging my presence.
I knew then that my mom would soon pass, even with the pretend ease of life support. The hawk showed me that. It tore life from death, fearless while surrounded by cars and dogs and 6 lanes. And I saw my mom, free and unfettered from the identity that limited her so; the absolute power and lack of apology once released from the body.
In the periphery of my mind, I wondered why everyone didn’t stop to admire this magnificent creature. Watching him reminded me of my first Vermont summer over a decade ago, where I pedaled past a meadow lit up with thousands of fireflies. My city self had not connected with such beauty and I nearly toppled from my bike, heart rent in two. I wanted to call out, “Oh, my god! Look at this!” but I was the only one on the road, and watched the sparks until bed called me home.
Of course, I thought about the hawk today because a cigar isn’t just a cigar in my world. I thought about how painful endings can be and the needs and desires that drive us on. The sparrows, though traumatized, would be back at the feeder before the day was done. I wondered over suffering and how birds can be ruthless in their quest to survive, but how much I love their personalities. I thought about the warrior spirit that I have carried and how it reflects back in Nature. I’ve had a bumpy relationship with that fierceness — a girl can’t be angry, because it isn’t ladylike — but when I come face-to-face with a bird of prey, that’s when I say, Fuck that.
And when death jars my comfortable morning, I recall my wise friend Gabriel’s words: Raven, everyone you killed or who killed you is still here. They haven’t gone anywhere. Stop feeling guilty!
Most of all, I thought about Hawk’s message: that death is part of what feeds me; that the power of endings is where I take flight.