Hawk Story

I was in Dallas this past weekend, visiting with friends and presenting a workshop. I flew up on Thursday to visit with Sara, a good friend who works with horses in her therapy practice, and Jingles, the older horse who previously has taught me much about becoming an Elder.

Jingles was glad to see me. He came over right away to “check me out.” Then, my having passed inspection, I suppose, he went back to grazing. But this story is not about our encounter this time.

Sara recently moved her horses to a different ranch that has unfolded as a restful summer camp for them. (Their work with humans does require some downtime, and the previous ranch was becoming difficult.) After checking in with them all, we walked the ranch grounds, letting me get a feel of the land. It’s always a pleasure to be out like that, even though the sun was high and hot.

The ranch house is roughly in the center of the property, with the horses kept in the back pasture. It was nice and felt very welcoming and healing. No wonder the horses were enjoying themselves! It is open to the sky, surrounded by woods, and covered in tall grass.

The front half of the property, as Sara pointed out, is very different from the back. As we walked into a wooded area, the whole atmosphere changed. I could feel the enchantment, and almost see the fairy folk playing just out of my vision.

Crossing a shallow stream, the feeling became even stronger as we approached the taller oaks. One of them had apparently been struck by lightning long ago; its trunk opened widely, and a huge branch on one half had also twisted, breaking so that it drooped low to the ground. It was not a recent injury. The wound had been partially healed, grown over by new layers of bark. It was truly remarkable, but the best was yet to come.

As we walked around a stand of trees and into an open meadow, we both heard an odd sound. After a minute or two, we understood that it was a bird, but neither of us had heard that kind of sound before. We followed the sound to a line of trees, and isolated the source high above in a stand of trees about 20 yards ahead at most.

Suddenly, a large red-tailed hawk flew from behind the treeline, making a powerful, quick dash off to our left. It startled us with both its speed and its apparent intention to be seen. It flew low to the treeline, still in clear view, until it banked and disappeard around the trees to our far left.

Still, the odd sound continued in front of us. At once we realized that what we were hearing was the hungry cries of a young hawk in a nest! As we gazed upward, trying to make out any shape of a nest and continuing to move closer, a second hawk leaped from the low bushes just ahead!

The image is now safed in my memory – a video scene as remarkable as the moment. I was looking directly at the point of the brush where it emerged. Powerful wings lifted the hawk quickly into the air, not more than 15 to 20 yards ahead. It dropped something red (fresh kill?) just as it cleared the tops of the bushes. Rising another few feet, it banked, wings spread wide, and gave me an incredible view of its whitish underside, speckled lightly with dark feathers.

The single image is frozen for me more clearly than a snapshot. I could see individual feathers in the wings, mostly backlit by the angle of the sun. Dark black lines highlighted brown wings; its black-tipped beak and talons were clearly visible and shone like highly polished onyx.

It finished the bank and rushed to the right, rising on incredibly powerful wings. I could sense in my body the power of each stroke, and felt myself pulled to dash after it, knowing how ludicrous was the idea. Then at about treetop height, it spread its wings wide and soared along the narrow meadow, then banked again and disappeared behind the trees.

All I could do was stare at the place where it disappeared, longing for it to return for just one more glimpse, but it was gone.

I don’t recall much about the next few seconds. Sara and I continued to look for the nest for a few minutes, until we realized that the loud chirping had ceased. We guessed that the hawks had tried to draw us away from the nest, and returned by another flightpath from behind the treeline when they failed to make us chase them.

I kept looking over my shoulder as we made our way out of the enchanted woods, hoping for another view, and grateful to the hawks for sharing their incredible beauty with us, even for just a moment.

The next day, we were welcomed by another amazing hawk encounter at some new property Sara is considering for her horses. But that is another story….

[Originally posted July 18, 2008]

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