Last Thursday morning, I awakened slowly to a sound that had been playing through the light dreams of early dawn. The Red-Shouldered Hawk family that lives across the field behind our house was calling and crying out. I hear them at least once each day, but these cries were repetitive and ongoing. Something was amiss, and I walked outside through the summer marine layer to the back fence to listen. I could see one, and then I saw another flying up from the ground into a favorite tree. I felt a prickling in the back of my mind, like when you see a face you recognize, only remembering later who it was. Turning to go back inside to make coffee, I planted a red flag as a mental note and felt a little trouble in my heart.
The calling continued throughout the day and into the next, and then the next. Sometimes they circled over our house, other times over the ranch and then the pasture “next door”. Our neighbors who “own” the field where the hawks live recently adopted three alpacas. Maybe the hawks were just annoyed at having GiraffaPoodles in their territory?
I’m calling this one Mick Hucknall.
That first morning, I went for some exercise down our road. As I left our dirt driveway, my heart leapt as I spotted a most coveted treasure. A black and white striped wing feather from a Red Shouldered. Twenty years ago, I had stooped down to pick up an identical feather during another walk. I still remember the awe and delight I felt, stroking it softly all the way back home. This was during a sad and stressful time in my early twenties, and the finding of this feather had felt like pennies from heaven. For several months after finding the first, I found many more, and came to expect a feather in my path as an “answer or sign”. I recently composted that original feather with regret after discovering that an invasion of silverfish in our SF flat had eaten it down to the quill. I had been on the lookout for this new feather…I had a hunch I would find another.
We spent Saturday morning getting ready to go camping at Lake Chabot in the East Bay. The hawks were still yelling, but although I had remained on alert through the last two days, stepping outside frequently to watch and listen, I chalked it up to Unidentified Behavior, Not Being Fluent in Hawkese and Ignorance on My Part. Finally we were ready in the early afternoon and headed slowly down our dirt road, packed to the gils with kids, cold brewed coffee, sleeping bags and coloring books.
And then I watched a hawk fall out of a low tree branch, not 50 feet from where the two juveniles had been perching for the last 48 hours.
We drove slowly, and as we witnessed the bird gimp across the road to hide behind a bush, we felt our plans change slowly as well.
I grabbed a towel and tossed it to Jeff who had already approached the hawk to startle it and assess it’s ability to fly. It flapped and hopped and held it’s left wing at a depressed angle. Backing itself up towards the bottom of a tree, it turned around to face us, practically disappearing through camouflage. The red on its shoulders and back blended in with the dirt, and as it fanned its tail onto the trunk, a longstanding question of mine was answered. What’s with the black and white stripes on the tail and wings? Surprisingly, from a short distance the stripes merge with the crags and hollows of tree bark.
The hawk scooted under a fence, in front of a 1970s circa house and into a small enclosed pasture with two very irritated sheep. Just at that moment an older couple were getting into their garage, on their way out for Saturday errands. Not sure how they would react to my tattoos and piercings intruding onto their lawn, I flagged them down and hoped for the best.
Turns out, their names are Tom and Cindy and they are our new friends.
While Jeff got on the phone with Sonoma Wildlife Rescue, Tom and Cindy told me Their Story. How they moved to this area 40 years ago, when there were no other house and far less trees. How this land is a wonderful place to raise kids. And how we both agree that this area is heaven, except for one thing…the wind! (After 18 years in the city, I thought a move up north would be an escape from the summer weather pattern, but alas. It’s windy every day and 10 degrees cooler than downtown Sebastopol.)
SWR said we should try to catch the hawk ourselves. I’ve got a fishing net! said Tom and Don’t we still have that dog carrier? asked Cindy and thus began Operation Hawk Rescue.
After a few failed attempts to corral it, the hawk ended up in some brambles to the side of the house. Now it was trapped, but well protected through low interlocking branches. A slow speed chase ensued and then finally Tom and Jeff got it cornered.
The hawk turned over on its back and threatened Jeff with its talons. Wearing gloves, he bravely began extraction.
Let’s get a closeup of that action…
And that, my friends, is how you catch a hawk.
Since they were planning on driving right by it, Tom and Cindy offered to take the bird to the rescue place. We said a fond farewell, and half an hour later from our false start, we were back on our way too.
To camping at Lake Chabot.
An old friend from HSU had invited us, and so we spent a sweet and mellow 24 hours in this funny pocket of nature, two skips away from suburbs. I didn’t sleep a wink, and instead listened to the BART trains in the distance and the fireworks in Oakland. There were Wild Turkey feathers to collect, folk songs to sing, and marshmallows to roast. We had a wonderful, dusty, sleepy time.
This morning, the hawks are still calling out in the field. Was it one of the parents that we rescued? The tips of some of the feathers we collected afterwards were somewhat worn, which tells me that perhaps it was an older bird. Will the juveniles be ok? I think so, since they both have fledged and since Mom or Dad is still around. Were the birds crying out because one of their own was wounded, or is it something else, something in the life of hawks that I don’t understand?
And the synchronicity? Of my own life and path and feather finding and the way my heart strings were tugged for days by their calling? Is it simply the coincidences between a woman and the way she pays attention to the land? Or is it a message from Spirit, to be interpreted like a tarot spread, like feathers thrown as runes?
Or is it all of that and more…mostly mystery, and better left in all its unknown, glorious and uncontainable vastness?
I think you know my answer to that.