The new commute is a major pain, but it has the occasional compensation.

Like seeing a hawk up close for the second time in my life.

The school’s new digs are located in an office park about an hour’s drive from the city in rush hour traffic. (The gridlock on the expressway is appalling.)

Said office park has plenty of green: grass that doubtless is the doubtful beneficiary of assorted chemicals—a far cry from Whitman’s leaves—and a nice variety of trees, each trimmed to a uniform triangular shape and planted at uniform intervals. Very Stepford, like Magritte men in corporate bowlers dotting the landscape.

But the suits can’t control the sky.

I was on my way to the bus stop going home when I heard a crow calling and looked up. A large winged something hovered not far above me, white wings, and then it descended, giving me the closet view I have ever had of a hawk.

It was medium-hawk-size, I suppose, big but not humongous, maybe the size of a small housecat. Mostly white, especially underneath (I had already glimpsed the wings and belly many times, catching glimpses of it floating above in the afternoon sky as I waited for the bus) with some brown and gray striping, the most noticeable mark a rusty red bar in the middle of its tail.

The hawk settled on a hillock just above the sidewalk where I’d stopped to stare at it, maybe about five feet away, maybe a bit less. My previous close-hawk-encounter had been through the window of our kitchen sink, watching the neighborhood hawk as it perched on the fence bordering our yard. The next-door neighbors there have a nice array of bird feeders which also attract squirrels and other small animals, and I fancy that was the reason for the hawk’s interest.

It was incredibly cool to see this raptor up close, with no intervening window pane. It paid me no mind; the feathers and down scattered around the bird’s feet gave evidence of a recent kill, and Hawk was more interested in poking about the remains for a last juicy morsel than taking heed of anything so commonplace as a human passing by.

What is it about animals of prey that so excites the imagination? The feelings of awe and wonder that any close sighting of a wild creature gives to me intensify. I love seeing and hearing chickadees—my favorite bird—but the pleasure there is more domestic, more of a “How’re you doing, neighbor.” Awe is the province of the hawk, the owl; awe requires the presence of power and danger in the creature observed, not unlike the religious feeling I get when contemplating God as an inestimably larger force of unimaginable power.

red tailed hawk from Glass_House, courtesy of Creative Commons (again, mine had more of a white head)

This is something I ruminate on quite a bit. Nature, red in tooth and claw, majestic, awe-inspiring, but how to reconcile this with my convictions about love and peace? Of course those of us who aren’t vegetarians all live on other things, so any move to condemn the hawk, the predator, would be hypocritical in extreme. Is it because creation is flawed, fallen? But creation would be so much the poorer without its awe-inspiring creatures of prey: the raptors, the owls, wolves and big cats.

Perhaps I should simply accept it as one of those Mysteries with a capital M, and leave it at that.

What inspires awe and wonder in you? (And is there anyone out there who can tell me what kind of hawk? I assumed it was a red tail, but the red tail hawks in Peterson’s all have solid red tails, not a single stripe.)

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