The Hawk

Gifts come quickly in the time of turning between summer and autumn. One dreamlike afternoon last week, I was sitting sewing under a maple and staring vaguely across the clearing at mauve, amethyst and pink asters, alive with many kinds of bees. With a whoosh of feathers, a large form shot past my cheek in hot pursuit of a bluejay. Flying low into the hazels at the edge of the woods, pursuer and pursued disappeared before I could identify the raptor. But the flash of feathers so near me, brought back memories of  Merak, the imprinted red-tailed hawk ,who so often clipped me with her wing in passing. “Pay attention,” she seemed to be saying.

Since Merak’s disappearance the May of the year before we left Foley Mountain, I have missed my relationship with her acutely. I take joy in the pair of red-tails who own the valley where we live now, and watch with alarm mingled with admiration when a small, speedy sharp-shinned hawk occasionally cuts in to raid the birds visiting our feeder. But I watch these magnificent hawks as an outsider. Living with Merak, I felt I had a window into hawkness which I will never know again.

So the next day, years after her disappearance, I was astonished to see a hawk the size of Merak perched absurdly on the rim of our birdbath in the center of the clearing. This bird was fluffed out, downy, rather babyish looking as Merak, the red-tail, was and the same size, with big feet clutching the rim of the bath. Only the breast of this hawk was sunrise colored, a barred apricot and its tail was sharply barred, telling me that this was as a much scarcer red-shouldered hawk.

In many ways like Merak, this hawk was different in behavior too. Where our bird was a clumsy flyer, and managed poorly hunting in woods, this hawk was adept. Before long my slight movement scared the surprising bird into slow, sure, sharp wing beats through the woods and up to the little meadow above. In the week since, the clearing is still again, except for cricket song and the murmur of bees.

About Peri McQuay

Peri Phillips McQuay is the author of Singing Meadow: The Adventure of Creating a Country Home, The View From Foley Mountain, a book of nature meditations on her experiences living for 30 years at the Foley Mountain Conservation Area and A Wing in the Door: Life With a Red-tailed Hawk is the story of her adventures with Merak, a human-imprinted hawk, who lived free but saw McQuay and her family as her special people. Also Peri has written numerous essays, articles, book reviews and a weekly column, published in the Kingston Whig-Standard Magazine. Her credits include Country Journal, Harrowsmith, Bird Watcher’s Digest, The Snowy Egret, Seasons, The Fiddlehead, Herizons and Brick.
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