6:27 a.m. 30 degrees, wind WNW 7 mph. Sky: clouds like eskers, long and
thick undulations embossed on blue, an aerial landscape; a transitory hint
of peach in the south; an inch of snow last night, first since May 10
(Mother's Day), blows off branches and beech leaves. A musical woodland:
clacking limbs, creaking trees, the moan of thin pines, rocking, their
crowns combing the currents of a charming and wobbling world. Permanent
streams: snow-covered rocks accent clear, cold flow; water carols with wood
. . . an upbeat melody on Election Day. Wetlands: snow highlights the
western wall of evergreens that lords over the marsh, faded reeds streaked
and dusted white; dark islands of sweet gale pepper the bleached-out
landscape. Three crows fly through a squall as silent as the snow. Pond:
five hooded mergansers, two females and three juvenile males, huddle on the
far end. One merganser dives and surfaces. One flushes, a short run across
the water, and then airborne, wings churning—three of the four remaining
ducks flee, complaining as they go, a series of guttural quacks. Alone on
the pleated surface, fifth duck reconsiders options . . .
Lots of deer tracks. No sign of mink (or otter). Three red-breasted
nuthatches wander around a cherry trunk picking at the bark, up and down in
defiance of gravity. Mumbling and squeaking, a subdued version of tin-horn
tooting. A pensive communique, an expression of my mood, if *not* theirs.
Election Day jitters. Chickadees hatch upbeat and stay that way.
Goshawk flies over the marsh and pond, arrows through the flurries, over
the valley's eastern rim, a solitary warrior in a cold world—a thrilling
nanosecond—a mood enhancer, without an after taste.
The sweetness of serendipity, the chance encounter that arises out of the
blue, as if someone or something had made all the arrangements just for me.
I got a phone call from a bank teller in the early oughts, who lived across
the river in Canaan, New Hampshire. Her daughter had acquired a pair of
insulated gloves with my son Casey's name and phone number written on the
garment tag. The gloves, which had been lost six years before, were
returned, and, though too small for Casey, were a perfect fit for his
younger brother Jordan.
Goshawks are like those gloves; they arrive in my life when I least expect
them. One Saturday morning, fourteen years ago, I stood in the garage,
stomping down the trash in the garbage pail, when I heard the distress
cries of our barred rock hen. Tea Cozy ran toward me up the driveway,
feather duster tail askew, screaming like a banshee. Right behind her, an
adult female goshawk, blue-gray and single-minded, wings out straight,
glided just above the ground.
The hawk chased the chicken into the garage. Tea Cozy scrambled past me,
wobbling from side to side in a cartoonish way as though she had run across
a trampoline. Panicked, she dove into the coils of garden hose, which lay
on the ground behind me. The goshawk followed ember eyes fixed on the hen.
When she saw me, she banked off the rim of the pail, executing an aerial
pirouette, and flew back out. I felt the air she had displaced. Heard her
wingbeats. Looked into alien eyes, all in a matter of seconds.
I've watched goshawks migrate above and below the North Lookout at Hawk
Mountain, along Pennsylvania's Kittatinny Mountain. But this day, I stood
in a trash can in the garage, not a slab of granite. And the goshawk was a
foot away, not soaring above a wooded valley. The hawk flew into a nearby
tree and stayed for a few minutes, then spiraled into the sunlight and
disappeared over a ridge.
For several minutes, the only things stirring in the front yard were the
wind and my thoughts. The entire event was over in five seconds. Maybe
less. Still, all these years later, I replay the scene, carefully studying
each frame until the event has become a myth . . . the hen, the hawk, the
garage, the garbage pail with me in it, the transparency of terror and
surprise, the relentless pursuit. My racing heart. All bundled into the
transparency of a moment, with implications as thick as thunder.
This morning's goshawk didn't whip around me, didn't assault my senses . .
. but it did for a transitory moment arrest my thoughts—an Election Day