A Hawk takes a Photographer Under its Wing

It’s been a month since a clutch of Cooper Hawks spent a week learning to hunt in the yard around the house. It’s been 3 weeks almost, since all but one left. I watched it for a few days and had a really uneasy feeling about it, so I called the Raptor Rescue people. It seemed unable to hunt well enough to survive, so I began hand-feeding it to supplement the small frogs that it was catching. It was gentle and respectful and so was I.

The Rescue folks assured me that it was a molting adult, probably a parent of the clutch and in no danger. They left without it. The hawk seemed to attach itself to me in the days after that. Wherever I was…there it was. It positioned itself nearby when I was working in the gardens and actually would follow me as I mowed, reaping the harvest of grass frogs the mower scared out. This hawk would actually run to me as I walked toward it, and during our many one-sided conversations it would cock its head as if listening hard, and when I asked, “Do I know you?” it slowly bowed its head and then looked up and looked me straight in the eye. Mind you, I was sitting on the ground only a few feet from it at the time, so it wasn’t something that I only thought that I saw.

Two days ago, I noticed that it seemed to be failing and could no longer fly. I upped its diet of raw meat and hoped for the best. The Raptor Rescue had already turned it down so I didn’t call again. I decided that for whatever reason, this beautiful creature had chosen me to end its days with and so I would try to protect it during the process and ease its way as much as I could. Yesterday it positioned itself in the shade, not far from where I was working near the pond. It appeared to be in some pain and had its head lowered most of the day, but would look at me when I talked to it. It was too weak to eat. I knew the end was near. I only wished that there was more I could do beyond keep the vigil. This morning it was over.

I put it in a clean box, put the box on top of some pine boughs in the burn pit and lit the fire. It felt like the right thing to do. My fear was that it wouldn’t burn, that there would be some horrible, sad remains, but it completely and totally disappeared. I stood there with the dog…watching. As the fire caught, a beam of sunlight shifted down through the trees and spotlighted the small fire and the smoke. The box burned quickly and I could see the shape of the hawk. The smoke began to spiral straight up…it had been going sideways. It looked like a slowly turning tornado filled with little curlicues moving thru the shaft of sunlight. I was in awe. It was over quickly, not a trace remained and the fire seemed to put itself out.

The hawk seemed to have been sent to me. It would have been ungracious, disrespectful even, not to have paid attention…not to have learned from it. I’m grateful for this thought provoking experience, this deepening of understanding and enlightenment, and hope that I in some way proved myself worthy of the opportunity that one of God’s creatures chose to give me.

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