A Predator Comes to Call

I was putting old chandelier crystals on my little Norfolk Island pine as I do every year around this time of year to honor all evergreens. It was almost November. I recalled a childhood experience… my little brother and I used to clink the beveled crystal pieces together in order to hear the music they produced when adults weren’t paying attention. Now each crystal shimmered like liquid rain caught by the late afternoon light. Suddenly a loud crash and thump interrupted my reverie. Oh no, a bird had hit the window – hard. I raced out the door. Yellow talons shuddered, but the hawk was dead when I reached it.

 Hawk is considered to be a Messenger from the dead by some Indigenous peoples – and the tidings the bird brings may be positive or negative… Hawks speak to power and they are also predators. In my life, hawks appeared the day I buried my brother; I also found a dead one on the day my mother died.

Context fleshes out the individual tale…

I brought the sharp shinned hawk in the house to examine it in detail; later I buried it outside my window.

Close up it was easy to identify this hawk. He had a small head, a squared tail, short wings, and spindly yellow talons. This one was quite large and brown with yellow eyes (adults have orange to red eyes) so I knew it was a young female; they are sometimes almost twice the size of males. Some are large enough to be confused with the Coopers hawk who look almost exactly like the Sharp shinned hawk except for size; the former has a larger head and a more rounded tail. 

The Sharp shinned hawk is the smallest of the three Accipiter hawks; the other two are the previously mentioned Cooper’s hawk and the large grey Goshawk. I have seen all of them in flight or perched on a fruit tree near the house; I have also seen them in Abiquiu during the winter. 

Because I feed my birds, I frequently encounter this streak of lightening as it soars low close to the ground. It strikes with a vengeance – feathers fly – and the bird disappears. My dove Lily b sits in his plant window that is open to the sky above most of the day watching birds. When one of the Accipiters slams into the window it scares Lily b off his basket but otherwise does not harm him. Afterwards, he sometimes coos indignantly at the intrusion! So far none of the hawks that have hit his window have been killed in all these years; this one struck a window on the other side of the house… a very strange occurrence, the possible meaning of which struck me like lightening. Was this bird’s death the harbinger of another predator’s demise? The election was a few days away. I hardly dared to hope.

These hawks also hunt by perching in dense foliage or by approaching stealthily through dense cover, then bursting forth with incredibly swift flight to capture hapless bird in the air – a horrifying thing to witness.

The Sharp shinned hawks are also the most migratory of the Accipiters breeding north to the Canadian Shield in Canada and Alaska and wintering as far south as Panama. Apparently, during fall and spring migrations, these birds travel together with dozens passing by coastlines, lakes, and mountain ridges. Some, however, remain in one place year round. I have always had the Sharp shinned hawk around here during the winter, and I also noted that while in Abiquiu I had them as regular visitors during the winter months; sometimes one would perch on the porch railing and look in the window!

Even if you don’t see them a sudden absence of birds at your feeder will alert you to hawk presence. These days in spite of the fact that they prey on songbirds, seeing the Sharp shinned hawk reminds me that the species is in decline especially in the east and I am sorry about that. Climate change is reducing the range of Sharp shinned hawks who have lost/ or will lose 55 percent of their range overall.

These birds live in mixed or coniferous forests like mine, riparian areas and open deciduous woodlands like the cottonwood forest around the casita in New Mexico. They nest in groves of evergreens of some kind and avoid open country.

During courtship, pairs circle above calling; fluffy white under tail coverts may be spread out to side during some displays. Males fly high and dive steeply into woods (about 20 percent lose their lives hitting trees during flight through thick forest). The nest site is very well concealed, usually in a dense conifer (such as spruce or fir) within a wooded area or a thick grove, and is placed about 20-60′ above ground, but it can be lower or higher in dense cover. The structure is a platform of sticks, lined with bark strips, twigs, grass. Both sexes bring nest material, but the female probably does most of the building. Four or five eggs are laid and incubated by the female while the male brings food. The youngsters can fly at about six weeks of age but both parents remain nearby for another couple of weeks. In addition to songbirds these hawks feed their young rodents, bats, squirrels, lizards, frogs, and snakes, although songbirds are a mainstay.

Native peoples relied upon hawks to protect them through trying times. As messengers they brought news. Today I can’t escape the gut sense I had that having the hawk slam into my window meant a human predator would soon be vanquished. I carried this intriguing thought and hopeful feeling around for more than a week before getting the news.

All Hallows – Hawk Visitation 2020

10/29/20

Smash/slam! I jump. A gunshot? Crash – Thump – the two sounds occurred almost simultaneously. Some bird hit my window; the truth strikes like lightening.

Oh, no. It’s raining. I race out the door – yellow talons shudder – but the bird is dead when I reach it. My/our(?) Messenger, the hawk.

(To Indigenous peoples the hawk is experienced as a messenger from the spirit world).

My mind is racing, a comet streaking through the sky, out of control.

I play back the scene – the afternoon’s light rain – reading last year’s All Hallows ritual a few minutes before – republished on MAGO – always surprised at the depth of my authenticity – how real I am.

Watching for cardinals in the gray November day… “November came early this year,” I told Mark earlier when he dropped off the roofing. He nods… We know winter is almost upon us. Even our bones are singing blue. There is a five – foot hole on the southern wall.

Something about the reading “All Soul’s Day” on Helen’s site sparks a recent memory. I had seen the chandelier pieces in the attic. Now I go up to get them. A bit early, I think before I remember I live through “Indian Time” and follow an invisible thread that nudges me on.  

( there’s an “ah ha” here too when I finally get it that’s why these ritual period are so fluid – I live through Indian time – duh)

These rectangular pieces of crystal were leftovers from my childhood. I had stripped them from fancy chandeliers disposing of the former. Davey and I loved those rectangular crystals clanking them together to hear the music when no one was paying attention…. Every year I put them on my tree to honor the dead, and now the living family that abandoned me – children and grandchildren. Too many boys lost for one woman to bear. Thanks be to Marcus.

After cleaning the crystals I begin hanging them on the little Norfolk  Island Pine. They shimmer like rain. It’s never enough to have trees outdoors; I need them indoors too.  They are my teachers; my dearest friends… the wisdom keepers.

Watching for cardinals in the heavy autumn dusk… thinking about how the women in my family took the stage behind the stage of men – the strong women – my grandmother and her sisters who polished silver, knit our scarves and mittens, sewed our clothes, gardened, painted, sculpted, kept immaculate houses, and cooked family dinners together, especially on holidays…. My mother, their darling, joined them on these celebrations out of duty and with unconcealed resentment. These Victorian women who never cried.  They were relentlessly cheerful – just once I wished one of them could tell me a story without a happy ending, a story that would let me into their world… or attach my grief to theirs. I never knew them….

Am I carrying that grief?

 Davey and I ate stolen chocolates hidden under the living room couch…

These were remarkable women and I never noticed…Did he?

I hung the last crystal on my little tree. I am adorning my tree early I thought. Most years I don’t hang crystals until after the Feast of the Dead, the three – day festival that ends on Nov 2 with All Soul’s Day and the end of the year. The new year is as yet unborn. We have entered ‘the space in between’.  

I walk in those footsteps, not because I chose them but because they chose me. The Indigenous Wheel of the Year is also my own…

This is the time of year that I honor all trees, but especially those that are evergreen… But today when I hang the crystals I am honoring the dead – my dead.

My current ritual has been written and now I live the story….

The smashed windowpane, the sight of the dead hawk. I gather his warm body in my hands and bring him in the house placing him under the tree in a trance. I spread out his wings.

More thoughts flashing… the hawks that hovered over Davey’s grave for a week, the hawk that I found dead the day my mother died. Hawks are always bringing news, and I am no less frightened by the presence of this one than I have been by others…

I will leave him here tonight and then decide.

Some part of me believes this bird heard the call and came to keep me tethered to truth: that I know things I don’t want to know. Ever.

 For the last week a caul hangs over me – a smothering shroud, a dread I cannot shake. My body has been stolen  – the pressure in my head is wringing my neck – my body is sizzling with raw electricity – and the full moon is still ahead. This year it falls on All Hallows – I endure.

One more gunshot punctures this last thought. It’s after dark – illegal – but who will stop them now? Those hunters of deer and bear; those hunters of those like me? Oh how I fear the Violence ahead…

And what of the hawk who came to let me know?

Dead.

I gaze at his beautiful body, his outspread wings, mole brown and cream feathers – the patterns. My god he is beautiful, and he lies there so peacefully. I thank him – not knowing if this message is just for me or attached to something more…

Context:

(10/24) I was pulled into the field of cranes…. I watched them ‘dance’, and finally when the group decided to visit another field they rose into the air like prehistoric angelic presences haunting the sky with their cries. IT WAS ENOUGH…..

Dream: #222 10/25…Hawk as Messenger/ an estranged friend

There is tremendous grieving going on. My estranged friend is in a bed and we all do what we can – she has just lost a beloved BIG dog and she is inconsolable. We move around witnessing, do what we can. There is a large bare tree hanging over her bed and then I/we see a hawk sitting in the branches – this is when I realize that everything is going to be all right. She has help. The hawk is with her – dream fades as I wake up…

 More context taken from unpublished material from All Hallows ritual written 10/28 2020:

“Some of us have stayed awake through this holocaust, but I am one who must force herself to climb into each day with a resolve that is slowly eroding, collapsing a floor that once held me secure. I am sinking into mold, fog bound, marshy oblivion… So I cry out for the comfort of trees who bend love over bare branches, listening for the Messenger who clasps his heart around my dreams.”

Dying into Life

rtha366.jpg

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

You circle overhead

as the Hawk does in my dreams…

Broad russet wings and tail,

a golden eye

piercing illusions

of separateness

intertwining the two –

Winter and Summer-

Both, Cycles of Becoming.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

Bittersweet flaming orange heat

and bleached blue sky

bend olive trees

with thorns, as leaves unfurl

casting sage green

shadows over

serpentine waters.

Willows glow –

burnishing gold wands

at dusk.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

Communing underground

thirsty cottonwoods

gulp much needed water,

give thanks for

Red Willow River

as do I.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

If only rain would come,

these mighty trees

with elephantine arms

would surely

drop pendulous russet flowers,

uncurl scalloped leaves

inviting us to sit awhile

under rough textured bark

to listen carefully,

to reflect upon this canopy

woven out of hearts

murmuring over our heads.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

Secrets are revealed

among arching tree boughs,

trunks, roots, and fungi,

truths we cannot bear to hear.

 

Dying into life

is a message

we need to feel.

 

 

Postscript:

 

Today is my father’s birthday…this morning I honored his life sitting by the river before dawn. I waited for the sun to rise through silver clouds… but the sky turned gray.

 

The day I buried my brother, hawks perched in bare branched trees around Trillium rock. One morning I spied a hawk driving to work. He lay lifeless, every feather intact as if asleep, by the side of the road. I stopped, gathering the dead, but still warm bird, gently in my arms. I would cremate him in my wood stove when I reached home… I didn’t know yet that my mother had died during the previous night. Another hawk almost flew into my window one September when a baby I longed for was born. How could I have known I would lose this child too?