26 December 2006

Red Tailed Hawk

My office is right across the street from what used to be the Municipal Airport. It's been closed for several years now, since they built a much bigger one out on the outskirts of town. The land is being cleared now for mixed use development. There are already some buildings in the process of construction, including a children's hospital. Those areas are on the opposite side of the old airport.

When I went out to get in my car and go home for lunch, I noticed a bird sitting on the ground across the street. (I'm fairly certain that "sitting' isn't the right word here, but I know "setting" isn't it, either.) It looked too small to be a buzzard. It was about the size of an owl, but it's rare to see owls just hanging out in the middle of the day like that.

As I was standing there, trying to figure out what kind of bird it was, a white pickup truck pulled in right next to my car. I smiled because I thought it was the husband of one of my co-workers, K. Then I remembered that K. wasn't in today. A guy who looked to be about my age, heavily tattooed, got out of the truck and said, "I have binoculars." His girlfriend or wife or daughter got out of the other side.

"What the hell is that?" I asked him. It was a red tailed hawk. The man explained to me that all raptors will eat dead things, as long as it hasn't decomposed too much, in which case the buzzards get it. As we stood there, it picked up its prey and flew into a nearby tree. The two people got back into their truck and left.

I love all raptors. They're so fierce and dignified looking. As a matter of fact, I have a photograph of a red tailed hawk sent to me by a friend that I use as wallpaper for my office computer.

I can't help but believe this is a good omen. In celebration, here's one of my favorite poems, written by a man who was a bit of a hurt hawk himself, Robinson Jeffers.

Hurt Hawks

The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,

No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.

He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.

He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,

The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.

You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.


I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk;
but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.

We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance.

I gave him the lead gift in the twilight.
What fell was relaxed, Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

Robinson Jeffers

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