Tuesday, July 2, 2013


The baby hawks are gone and I am ridiculously devastated. I know they're only birds.  I know they are wild creatures; their survival had always been far from certain.  Nonetheless I feel loss.

I had anticipated another summer of watching a new generation of hawks growing up.  Two years ago the nest was right in our yard. I watched the adults painstakingly build the nest during the spring and then in the summer I watched the juveniles learn to be hawks. 

First they did what I called "walk abouts".  Actually it was more like "hop abouts".  They would hop from one branch near the nest to nearby branches.  Soon they were taking first flights, clumsily knocking each other off their perches.  I was amazed that hawks, who were born to fly, were so abysmally bad at it at first.  It was encouraging to me, teaching that just because you aren't great at something right off doesn't mean you weren't born to do it.  Our society often has no patience for failure or mediocrity, offering little grace in the way of forbearance of judgment about our worthiness to pursue a passion unless we quickly exhibit brilliance to casual observers. 

The four "band of brothers" stuck together that summer, perfecting the art of flight...and killing.  I tried not to think too much about their meals, the songbirds and chipmunks that were probably on the menu. My hawks were simply magnificent and I was blessed to have a front row seat. 

This spring the adults were back and they chose a different tree to build their nest.  At first I was disappointed.  The tree was technically not in our yard. Soon I realized that this tree offered a great advantage: better viewing.  I could stand on our deck and look into the nest with binoculars, something the proximity of the previous nest didn't allow.  Soon I could see the babies. I couldn't wait to again experience the gift of watching them learn to become hawks.

A few nights ago at dusk, a raven and one of the adult hawks flew by, fighting.  I could tell the hawk was attacking the raven and I was worried for the fledglings, but I thought they would be fine.  They were getting so big and they had their parents to protect them.  That night, I was in bed reading when I heard the babies cry.  That's the odd thing.  I had never heard them vocalize that I was aware of.  I'd heard the adults and knew their calls and once the juveniles hunted, they would vocalize in a similar way.  I hadn't heard the babies yet.  But that night I did; I knew they were in trouble.  I don't know how I knew. It was dark. I couldn't see what was happening.  Even if I could see, there was nothing I could do.  Like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, I was across the way bound to my space, unable to help.

I hoped I was wrong, that it was just my imagination.

The next day I didn't hear the adults' morning calls, but sometimes that happened, I told myself.  I couldn't see in the nest.  Sometimes that also happened; the branches often moved and obscured my vision. I kept telling myself the babies were surely in the nest, safe and sound. In the afternoon I tried again and had a clear view.  The nest was empty. Empty. No more babies "fluffing" their wings. Empty.  I kept hoping I was looking in the wrong place but I knew I wasn't.  They were gone. A new reality imposed by one day on the previous one.  

Loss is like that, any loss, big or small.  The new reality fights with the reality that still exists in your mind and for that moment, during that second you are lost, until you orient yourself and resurface. The greater the loss, the more times you experience that wrenching disorientation.

For years after my grandmother died I would catch myself thinking about sharing something with her, the reality of her absence at odds with my experience of her being present.  I'd have to give my brain a chance to align the "what was" with the "what is".  I experienced the same reality shift of loss when I miscarried our second child.  It was so unreal to be pregnant, full of joy, anticipation, and dreams one day, and not be pregnant the next.  My brain was constantly misfiring, confusing the present reality with the old one and each time that misfire happened I would experience the loss again. 

We all experience loss; it is the very nature of having loved. Just as love is the reason we feel loss, love is also the salve for the wound.

I heard the adult hawks the next morning.  I sat on the deck and watched them fly to and from the earlier tree with nest building materials in their beaks.  For some reason I felt tears on my cheeks; I don't know why.  For the loss? The disappointment?  The hope? I don't know.  I was happy to see them.  I can't imagine that they have time to start again but their actions still brought me a kind of joy.