20 May 2008

Bird Musing

An eagle soared in the sky-blue sky.

I was standing on the platform, waiting in the morning sun for my southbound train. In the sky, a red-tailed hawk made lazy circles, looking for prey. After a moment, a smaller bird joined in, riding a current, scurrying to catch up, diving at the bigger bird. And then they were gone.

There were a dozen or so people waiting with me, but only one other noticed the birds. Everyone else had their heads in the paper, or their noses to their blackberries, missing the beautiful morning, missing the bird dance above us. I tapped the other watcher on the shoulder.

Did you see that? What was going on?

I don’t know. I thought perhaps it was a fledgling, learning to fly.

Hmm, maybe, because the bigger bird didn’t seem at all upset by the smaller bird.

We talked about the birds for a moment, and then the train came.

Later, I mentioned it to W. – he said Oh, it’s a sparrow-hawk. Anyway, it’s too early for fledglings.

Somehow, this landed me smack dab in the middle of the Audubon Society website, where the whole text of Audubon’s Birds of America is reproduced. Oh, the language!

…the little hunter rises in the air, describes a few circles, moves on directly, balances itself steadily by a tremulous motion of its wings, darts towards the earth, but, as if disappointed, cheeks its course, reascends and proceeds. Some unlucky Finch crosses the field beneath it. The Hawk has marked it, and, anxious to secure its prize, sweeps after it; the chase is soon ended, for the poor affrighted and panting bird becomes the prey of the ruthless pursuer, who, unconscious of wrong, carries it off to some elevated branch of a tall tree, plucks it neatly, tears the flesh asunder, and having eaten all that it can pick, allows the skeleton and wings to fall to the ground, where they may apprise the traveller that a murder has been committed.

That is how the sparrow-hawk hunts.

And the poor red-tailed hawk that dares to capture an unlucky chicken? Here is how the farmer enacts revenge:

(The hawk) falls upon and seizes an old fowl, the dying screams of which are heard by the farmer at the plough, who swears vengeance against the robber. He remembers that he has observed the Hawk's nest in the woods, and full of anger at the recollection of the depredations which the plunderer has already committed, and at the anticipation of its many visits during the winter, leaves his work and his horses, strides to his house, and with an axe and a rifle in his hands proceeds towards the tree, where the hopes of the Red-tailed Hawk are snugly nestled among the tall branches. The farmer arrives, eyes the gigantic tree, thinks for a moment of the labour which will be required for felling it, but resolves that he shall not be overreached by a Hawk. He throws aside his hat, rolls up his sleeves, and applies himself to the work. His brawny arms give such an impulse to the axe, that at every stroke large chips are seen to fall off on all sides. The poor mother-bird, well aware of the result, sails sorrowfully over and around. She would fain beg for mercy towards her young. She alights on the edge of the nest, and would urge her offspring to take flight. But the farmer has watched her motions. The axe is left sticking in the core of the tree, his rifle is raised to his shoulder in an instant, and the next moment the whizzing ball has pierced the heart of the Red-tailed Hawk, which falls unheeded to the earth. The farmer renews his work, and now changes sides. A whole hour has been spent in the application of ceaseless blows. He begins to look upwards, to judge which way the giant of the forest will fall, and having ascertained this, he redoubles his blows. The huge oak begins to tremble. Were it permitted to speak, it might ask why it should suffer for the deeds of another; but it is now seen slowly to incline, and soon after with an awful rustling produced by all its broad arms, its branches, twigs and leaves, passing like lightning through the air, the noble tree falls to the earth, and almost causes it to shake. The work of revenge is now accomplished: the farmer seizes the younglings, and carries them home, to be tormented by his children, until death terminates their brief career.

Such violence at nature’s intersection with man. Hawk eats man’s chicken, man takes hawk’s young for his own children to torture, and kills tree in process. Whoa. I need to think that today’s farmer wouldn’t destroy the hawk’s nest and young, but would protect his chickens instead. Then again, the hawk’s habitat likely will instead be destroyed for another swath of McMansions.

See what happens? I've wended my way from minding my business on the train platform, and suddenly the world has come to an end. It's a wonder I manage to get up in the morning.

21 comments:

slouching mom said...

Goodness -- I didn't realize that Audobon merited an R rating!

slouching mom said...

Oops. Sorry. Blogger spazzed. I meant "Audubon."

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Yikes.

needleinahaystack said...

Ahh but the poor defenseless chickens?
Love your book selections! (smile here!)

FreshHell said...

Jeez, I would say "thank goodness I'm a vegetarian and this scenario would never play out in my world" but critters LOVE vegetables. Different critters. And, I'd never consider burning down their home to enact revenge because they ate all my tomatoes. I would just build a better fence.

Kyddryn said...

Mmm...they are eminently adaptable, those magnificent birds. We have a nesting pair in the woods behind our house. The crows harry them so - it's an odd sight to see a murder of crows cawing and giving chase to the pair of hunters that would prefer to wheel and turn in peace on a thermal.

On occasion, a smaller bird will chastise the hunters for daring to shadow her bit of wood, but it never daunts them. Our owl has similar difficulties, finding himself pestered by jays and the occasional mourning dove who has forgotten her Quaker sweetness and looses her ire upon him.

Today, the raptors are protected - it is unlawful to have even a single feather that was honestly lost and floated down to land at one's feet. To harm one, or to harm their young, is punishable under the law. We can learn.

It is always a sad thing, to me, to note how few people actually SEE the world they live in and KNOW how their actions impact it. I'm glad you were looking. Every show should have an audience, every drama a witness.

Shade and Sweetwater,
K

kathy a. said...

oy. what you saw was wonderful. the piece on revenge -- it must have been on the audubon site to illustrate the stupidity of man?

womaninawindow said...

I'm glad for people like you who look up...

cactus petunia said...

It's truly amazing how one can look at nature with wonder and awe, yet others see only anger and vengeance. Thanks!

Eva said...

The things you find! Always some treasure here.

And of course the farmer eats the chickens' babies.

Not that I don't like scrambled eggs.

susan said...

That is quite the dark place to end up, yes, but I smiled through this post in a way. There's something about the way you work, the way your mind works, that's evident here and in the post prior. Something about your ability to look at the world and see details and make cool meaning/sense/creation of it. I like it.

flutter said...

This made me laugh, it just did

Mayberry said...

But I'm glad you do. (Get up in the morning. And find this stuff and write about it.)

Angeline said...

Love this post, I could literally feel you through your words...its amazing!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Did you see my post about the snake and the crawdad? It's brutal out there, I tell you.

We have an eagle resident here. In my town, I mean. Every time it flies the people stop and stare and point and the other animals, they freak out. So much squawking! I find it interesting that all animals, humans included, are overwhelmed by an eagle.

Mental P Mama said...

Thank goodness there are people like you still out there. I would have made everyone look!

BipolarLawyerCook said...

Wow. For better or worse, I need to get a copy of that book.

If it makes you feel better, I try to have at least 5 apocalyptic thoughts before noon.

Don Mills Diva said...

Methinks there was once a frustrated gothic novelist working for the Audubon Society.

painted maypole said...

it's fascinating these trips we go on as we learn, isn't it?

Julie Pippert said...

Oh Audubon can be really violent. I had to find alternative sources for the kids.

I like how you think, though. That you saw that, wondered about it, and came to a philosophical point about it.

This might be one of my favorite things today.

MadMad said...

I adore hawks - I will practically stop on the highway to watch one - they are so beautiful. (Well, except the time one caught a squirrel right outside the window where my son - 5 at the time - was sitting. That got a wee bit ugly. But still cool, I suppose.) Anyway - was there any mention of why there always seem to be crows chasing them?