I suppose one of the great observations I make from day to day is the soaring hawk, a Red-tailed (Buteo jamaicensis).
The hawk is above the debris, the remains of daily chores. Yes, I know that he or she must come down to earth, but as I watch the hawk, I think it plays and flies for the sheer fun of it, the pleasure of flight. Who can say? I personify the hawk more than I should, yet, it gives me pleasure to reach out and extrapolate the behavior in familiar terms, a kinship formed.
Two Red-tails inhabit the grove on our place, a riparian swatch that I am keen on developing. Harris’ hawks also migrate through this area, soaring closer to the ground and smaller in physique. I hear their voices: karr from the Harris and keeer-r-r from Red-tail. Cris-crossing, floating, the swiftness with which they predate holds my attention. It is said that the hawk will dance on its kill. I have not seen that and do not look for that vintage behavior, but rather I am open to what the hawk displays. And, in the fields and grove, soaring becomes the rule for display.
To the field we should go daily. To the field and look and listen, especially to the sky when Red-tails fly.
It is no wonder that Lame Deer, the seeker of visions, would say, when happy: My heart soars like a hawk.
Thou art that: the hawk, the soaring heart.
For voice and bird identification, Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to Western Birds, 2nd ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969. I have kept a life list of birds I have seen. I’ve become interested lately in the voices and calls of birds. The voice translation of the hawks come from Peterson.
One of the excellent sources of Native American life and biography is John (Fire) Lame Deer, Lame Deer Seeker of Visions: The Life of a Sioux Medicine Man, with Richard Erdoes, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972. My paperback copy of Lame Deer is old and full of markings.
“Thou art that,” is an ancient Asiatic perceptual insight in meditation. What you see (and other senses), you are. Basically, it is an insight that breaks down boundaries among objects and creates a unity. It is a Vedic formula for enlightenment. One source is the Chandogya Upanishad. I teach world civilization and some of the most interesting classes among undergraduates is trying to understand the Orient.
Banner photograph taken by J. Matthews. It is an enlargement of the Red-tail hawk in the first thumbnail. Nikon D300 with telescopic lens is the camera.