Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hawk on a Pole

When the sun’s out in the dark season – and we are now firmly in the dark season, with sunset at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time – you just have to get outdoors.
            I see more people walking along the Quincy shore these days. I think they’re driven as I am to appreciate our opportunities to look at the world because the window of opportunity is narrowing. The day shutters down before we know it; another picture of our life gets snapped and goes to the darkroom (well, we bypass skip the darkroom these days, but it’s still a good a metaphor.)
When the sun’s out in the dark season – and we are now firmly in the dark season, with sunset at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time officially – you just have to get outdoors.
            I get cold indoors even with the heat on when I’m sitting at my desk for hours. The blood slows. The way to warm up is to do something active. It’s colder out of doors but you feel warmer simply by moving.
Note to self: the way to get through winter is to get moving whenever you can. Second note: the way to get through the dark season is to go bask in the sun when you can see its smiling face. Don’t tell me it’s just a ball of fantastically overheated gases; it’s my smiling, energetic friend.
            Last week, with the sun shining in between storms, I went down to what the state calls a beach but is more accurately described as a shoreline with a good long sidewalk for walking, bordered by a four-lane roadway with too much traffic. As I often do, I chose to walk on the in-land side of the road, farther away from the pretty blue harbor. Like everybody else, I’m drawn to stare at open water and the geo-morphed shapes of various harbor islands and the works of man that connect some of them to land or to each other. But I’m even more drawn to scan the salt marshes on the other side of the road and look for birds.
            Birds take to the harbor, but these are generally gulls, winter ducks, occasional Canada geese and sometimes, but rarely, the waterbirds I look for the in the marshes: Great Blue heron and the pure white great egrets. A night heron visited over here one summer. The marsh also draws owls and hawks, especially in migratory seasons.
            I haven’t seen any of these big “charismatic” birds this fall. The closest I came was a stroll a couple of weeks ago when I noticed a crow whip across the marsh toward the walking path, land in a nearby tree, and begin jabbering. Crows jabber for lots of reasons, but these squawks drew other crows, and in half a minute a half dozen were hanging out in the same tree above my path.
            I had been watching the trees on the edge of a wood that rises slightly above the marsh. It’s a good place for raptors; they can scan the marsh and the treetops. I raised my gaze higher now and found what the crows were caucusing over. A raptor, most likely a hawk, circling high in the warm drafts over the marsh. After a minute it disappeared behind a cloud and I lost it. The crows, I expect, kept a more faithful vigil.
            During yesterday’s sunshine stroll, I scanned those same trees again and saw nothing. Turning back, I glanced toward the ocean and saw a creature – human – that got my attention. A woman, standing still, staring upward. I followed her gaze. On top of a tall sleek street lamp perched a very large bird, a thick-bodied red-tailed hawk. The woman peered a few moments longer, then kept walking. One or two other pedestrians walked past, but didn’t bother to look up.
            I had my camera out, snapping at the hawk from across the street. Not surprisingly, the big bird zeroed in on me right away (camera shy? Or doesn’t like people pointing things at him?) and did not take his eye off me as I crossed at the nearest intersection, hurrying against the traffic, trying to get closer to my – “prey”?
A good hawk-faced profile faced in my direction, but he’d had enough of the attention.
            The final blow was the seagull. The gull kept his distance, about 25 yards, but kept circling around the hawk, squawking in seagull to whoever needed to know that there was a hawk in the neighborhood.
            Between the two of us, the hawk had had enough. I raised my camera, he stepped neatly out to the edge of the lamp, opened his wings, and made that graceful sky-king departure available to lords of the blue.
            I couldn’t believe how quickly he lost himself among treetops without any particular effort or sense of urgency.
            The thing about flying is it’s – fast.