Under the Aegis of the Hawk

High in the pine trees above our home, a pair of hawks has broken the summer silence. Their cries are both menacing and shrill, powerful and cutting. A chipmunk, torn from the earth mid-run, then tossed back to the ground, lies dead beneath the trees, while spatterings of bird shit dot the lawn like wayward splashes of white paint. The birds circle their roost, making long, loping arcs in the sky, alighting on the one or two tallest pines. In the sunlight, shadowed by nothing, they are striking. Birds of prey, and all-powerful on their mighty perch, they make quite a sight. Andy and I have been watching them, transfixed by their glory, in awe of their proximity, and moved by the might of nature.

These are immense birds, and even at a distance their size can be seen, almost felt, in the way they thunder through the trees and the manner the boughs sway and creak beneath their weight. Even in their quiet stealth, they can be seen out of the corner of the eye – so as I was coming out of the pool the other day, my gaze was taken by the large bit of movement barreling down through the large oak tree in our side yard. At first I thought one of them had attacked the other, and that the injured hawk had fallen down, plummeting through leaf-filtered sunlight, catching itself just before it hit the ground. I grabbed my camera and went to explore where it looked like the bird had come to a stop.

Just on the other side of our fence, about twenty feet off the ground, the hawk was hanging from an oak branch, its wings outstretched and backed by the afternoon sun.

Its eyes and head were staring straight ahead, focused and sure, and it didn’t look hurt. It stayed there, hanging for a bit allowing me to get a few photos, studying me for a moment as intently as I was studying it. Time stilled, and the majesty of this magnificent creature rendered me silent. It looked around, and in the brief seconds our eyes met I wanted to cry.

It flapped its wings deftly and was upright on the branch. According to Andy, when hawks are young they will stretch their wings like that. I watched the animal’s focused gaze, the way it studied and tilted its head from side to side, surveying the land, assessing the space, and, finally, flying away in one quick flourish of gorgeously feathered wings.
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