Wilson is a Red-tailed Hawk who has made a huge impact in my life. Our strange relationship began six months ago when I became suddenly and inexplicably enchanted with hawks. I am compelled to share this story as I believe it has significance for each and every one of us.
One day at the outset of my normal forty-minute commute to work, I abandoned the congested freeway and decided to try an alternate route through open agricultural landscape—the back roads, as I called them. The feeling of this commute was, of course, very different than the stresses of the freeway. There was magic along these corridors of blossoming orchards, stately vineyards, and patchwork row crops. I thought it might take me longer to get to work this way, and it did by a few minutes, but oh what a worthwhile few minutes this turned out to be! Half way through my journey I spotted a pair of raptors, hawks I guessed, soaring in large circular patterns over a field. Their graceful dance was mesmerizing and created a powerful yearning through every fiber of my being. I pulled over to the side of the road and soaked in the essence of freedom and beauty of the dance as they glided and dipped. I could have stayed for hours in this state of bliss, but the persistent tick-tick of reality urged me back on the road toward the work that awaited me. The sensation of the sensuous soaring remained with me throughout the day.
Later that evening, I logged onto my Chirp!USA app and learned that Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawk in North America and can be seen on any long car ride as they soar above the land or perch atop telephone poles awaiting a warm updraft and their next meal. Telephone poles? Really? There were hundreds of telephone poles between Riverbank and Stockton, California, but I don’t think I had ever really noticed the poles—much less the hawks. The next day I chose the backroads again, this time paying careful attention to the tops of telephone poles. Sure enough I saw six hawks in varying locations, and was instantly enamored with each of them.
Over the following weeks and months this hawk watching pastime grew into a fascination that consumed my commutes. I quickly noted the same hawks in similar locations day after day, and I named them according to the street name or nearby landmarks. The regulars on my route were Wagner (Wagner Rd), Frenchie (French Camp), Archie I and II (two hawks that could be found in a variety of locations along the fields next to Stockton’s Arch Rd exit), Manny (Main St exit), and Cherokee (Cherokee exit).
The hawks had become a blessing for me, urging me on the road, even on a Monday, when I didn’t really want to go to work. They were now a part of my life and the anticipation of seeing them on a daily basis was oddly rewarding. I often wondered if I could involve others in this pastime but doubted that the general public would find the opportunity unless they commuted as I did. That was the problem, I thought. The natural world was shrinking—and so was our opportunity to interact with it.
In my mind the city was the boundary, the conceptual marker separating humanity from the healing we could receive from the natural world. Because of this belief my daily hawk watch typically stopped after taking the exit off the freeway. My mind turned back to the pressures of reality, and I began to plan my day in those final minutes. The stress was quick to seep into my body the moment my attention pulled away from the landscape into my inner thoughts of audits, meetings, and deadlines. Then I met Wilson.
I remember my complete and utter surprise the day I stopped at the red light at the corner of Wilson and McAllen, and there at the top of the telephone pole on the corner was Wilson. He stared down at my car, and then nonchalantly looked away when I waved. From that day forward Wilson greeted me at one of the four telephone poles overlooking the small bare lot on the corner below. Had he been there this entire time, all those years I traveled in from Riverbank? How could I have never even noticed?
Wilson changed my perception about what I call “the natural world.” I suddenly realized that nature was everywhere, not just in the wild or less inhabited areas between towns and cities. There is much nature to be found in the city, and these areas of magic call to many beings. I now realize that we humans need to maintain a greater awareness of the other-than-human beings that share this world with us.
Since the appearance of Wilson, I often spot 12 or more hawks on my commute to the city, and several of them are actually in the city limits. In fact, one of my newest friends is a small hawk that sits atop a lamp post across the street from the college where I work. He shares this lamp post on alternating days with a stately white egret.
So I am here to thank Wilson for showing me something very important: There aren’t more hawks, there is more awareness. How much more complete and fulfilling might our lives be with greater awareness?