Monday, March 14, 2016

the hawk

(Having lived most of my life in Missouri and Kansas, I have always been intrigued by the red-tailed hawk. I remember reading a great article about the hawk some time ago in the Kansas City Star by legendary columnist Charles Gusewelle. I recently happened upon the article, and thought I would share some excerpts from it.)

It is the season of the hawk. The sky pales. Frost burns the prairie grasses, and the north wind coming across the vastness of the Flint Hills sets seed pod rattling dryly on leafless stalk. The surplus of greener time has been drawn down, the land laid bare. All is seen now as if in a photograph of incredible sharpness, but drained of tone. And above that the hawks turn, or frown down motionless from their post-top perches.

Most of us have never looked near at hand into a hawk's eye. Some of us might care not to. But the fierceness of that stare can be imagined. Certainly the small furred things that creep among the grasses can imagine it - though they have never seen it either, and if they do, will see it only once.

Under such a sky, on such a day, with feathered hunters wheeling on the wind, we climb a pitch of prairie barrens and drop down into a fold where trees mark the course of a winding seep, then climb again. Ahead of this crest, other land-waves roll away without evident end.

Except for the hawks, the cattle specks and us, there seems to be no other life in that immensity. We have not walked far, but now the day has gotten lazy. The sun is obscured and the vastness around us becomes briefly a confusion. The hills are alike, and also the tree-bordered rivulets between them. In a word, we are for a moment lost.

Something brown scuttles in the grass at our feet. A vole we guess it to be. Then a prairie chicken takes wing nearby and sails over the lip of the hillside. These are the things we are able to see, on a day when the wither of autumn has laid the country open to our eye.

What then must the hawk see, with their cold and infinitely finer vision? Above us they hang on the wind in their astonishing numbers. No doubt they see the whole pattern of the land, and so are never lost as we are lost. They see the larger objects - three figures walking down a slope and up another and down again, bound on some errand about which hawks are indifferent.

But their purpose is more discriminate. Patiently they turn - for long minutes - for effortless hours. But in an instant the wings fold back, and cowering among the dead sterns, some creature hears the rush of wind and looks a first/last time into hunger's yellow eye.

Hawks rule here, and this is their season. By the pure luck of being an awkward size for a meal, we are able to gain the valley and find the car.

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