Death in the Afternoon...
Article ID: 14806
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 759
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Posted: July 1st. 2012
Times Viewed: 2,392
I took a brief walk after a working lunch. The sun was high in the sky and the air was cool. It was a beautiful September day in the Berkshire Mountains -- I'm new to the area and used any opportunity to get outside to help myself adjust from beach living to mountain life.
I walked down the hill from the main building where I work and hadn’t gone too far when there, to my right, on a wire overhead was a red-tailed hawk looking this way and that. I stopped and watched the wind lift his tail feathers. He stretched and showed me his white belly and fluffy legs. He — or she — was awesome in structure. He looked strong and powerful.
As he sat, he moved his head from side-to-side. He turned once to look at me as I cautiously took a seat on the low wooden rail along the road, then turned his attention back to the tall brush, tangled weeds and wild flowers that framed the woods. I sat contentedly in the sun, thrilled to have this opportunity to be so close to such a creature.
I studied the way he slid his head across his back and tried to move my head, gliding across my shoulders, the same way. Many Taijiquan [Tai chi] teachers [myself included] study and imitate the movements of animals. Some say the ancient martial art of Taijiquan was created after Wudang Daoist master Zhang San Feng (12th C.) witnessed a fight between a crane and a snake.
My neck cracked in my efforts to mimic the hawk just as I began to hear little throaty chirping sounds come from the underbrush. It sounded like the noise squirrels make, not too loud though, and it didn’t sound alarmed — just a steady series of clicks and chirps. Suddenly the hawk spread his wings and dropped straight down into the brush like a stone falling from the sky. A terrible squealing commenced and I knew the hawk had caught something. I was struck, mouth open, by the sudden change from sightseeing on a lovely day to the wailing of an animal dying in the claws of a predator. The racket was awful, but it didn’t last longer than a minute, maybe two. It was heart wrenching.
I didn’t know what to do with myself. A city-girl for decades — I was curious, frightened, repulsed and paralyzed. Here was the truth of nature, not on television, and barely five feet in front of me. I didn’t know why this was happening for me to see, but I thought I’d best see it through to the end. Everything I see and experience is there for a reason. I didn't want to miss the message.
I slowly stepped closer to the underbrush. I could see the hawk’s white feathers and stopped. He was no more than three feet in front of me, barely concealed by dried grasses and weeds. I didn’t want to see blood. But I couldn’t not look. I stood still. The hawk looked at me the same way he had earlier, over his shoulder -- unafraid, unconcerned, unimpressed.
As I watched, he made a small jump and the captured creature came up with him in his talons. He was in a small clearing, now two feet from me. I could see the eye of the squirrel and the hawk’s talons on its belly. I didn’t see any blood, but the chest of the squirrel didn't move either.
The hawk kept squeezing his talons into the body beneath him— perhaps to make sure it wasn’t playing dead or to be certain it wouldn’t suddenly get up and run away. Again, the hawk fluttered his wings and hopped -- and the squirrel came up and down with him this time a few more inches closer to me.
The hawk was coming straight toward me, out of the brush and now, onto the mowed grass, into the open. This was more than I wanted to see. I was confused. I couldn’t fathom why the hawk was coming toward me, with his prey, his prize.
I thought of a time my house cat caught a mouse and brought it to me. What did they want me to see?
I continued to watch the hawk, two feet in front of me, in plain sight, without cover. As I pondered why the hawk was so undisturbed by my presence, my closeness, I suddenly realized he was not feeding. His lunch was getting cold. I didn’t understand.
The hawk and myself were frozen, transfixed. Paralyzed, nothing moving, our eyes locked. I'm not even sure if I was breathing.
In the next moment, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman — one of our guests at the retreat where I work — crossing toward me into the parking lot off to my left. When she got close enough, she looked where I was looking and stopped. She saw the hawk.
“I don’t think you want to see this, ” I turned and said to her.
She looked from me to the hawk, her mouth wide open. “You’re right." Then she said: "Has it got something there?”
“A squirrel, ” I replied. “It made a horrible racket when he caught it.”
The woman grimaced and said "thank you." She turned and walked in the other direction, toward the main building.
When I looked back at the hawk at my feet, he was slowly pulling up with his beak on a long string of something red from the side of the squirrel. I turned and followed the guest up the hill back toward the center. I've been out nearly every day. I have not seen the hawk since.
I still don't know what to make of the incident, don't know what it means, or why it was so intensely personal to me. I know the meaning will come, in time.
In September of this year I moved from the beach near Rhode Island to the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusettes.
Copyright: All rights reserved JA Sommar
Location: Pawcatuck, Rhode Island
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Bio: I am a solitary witch, practicing for over 15 years and a writer, editor, herbalist, healer, clinically trained Chaplain and counselor. I am also a taijiquan [Tai Chi] instructor.
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