Ever since I moved to Nashville almost nine years ago, I’ve tried quite a variety of churches in search of the right experience, the right fit, a place that felt like home where my spirit could rest and soar simultaneously. A few congregations came close with kind, welcoming people. Others were awkward – like the time a woman, dripping with pungent perfume, spun around to offer me gum while she rocked out to the opening ‘hymn’ like she was at a Fleetwood Mac concert. I left early. Each experience felt forced, like I was trying too hard to find a place where I belonged that moved me.
I don’t remember when I discovered Radnor Lake State Natural Area, but I’ve been walking its trails and listening to its lessons for more than five years. Last year during an early summer stroll around the lake trail, it seemed odd that I had not yet seen any fawns grazing with their mothers. White-tail deer commonly share the paths with visitors and it’s a delightful experience to watch people as they see deer up close for the first time. Just ten minutes from the nature center, the lake trail curves right following the lakeshore with a buffer of tall grasses and trees between the trail and the water. Rounding the turn, I came upon a doe with her fawn nestled against her side. Just minutes before I had wondered and hoped…within minutes there they were. (p.s. Lesson = always bring the good camera! Although the camera phone zoom quality is not great, I’m grateful to have captured this moment at all.) I’ve seen numerous adult deer and many fawns at Radnor, but a baby nursing was a first!
Just a few days ago on a different section of the same lake trail, a screeching bird stopped me in my tracks. The sound was not an owl, but it certainly sounded like a large bird and an urgent call. After a scan of the high branches, I spotted a red-tailed hawk hovering over a squirrel held tight in its talons. The demanding screech seemed to beckon another bird, so I scanned the sky in every direction and waited. He continued to call for a minute, maybe two, when another large hawk swooped in from the north and did a fly by, reminiscent of Maverick buzzing the tower in Top Gun (so we’ll call hawk #2 Maverick, hawk #1 Goose.) Maverick’s wingspan was easily three to four feet with large flared feathers at the tips of his wings. After resting a moment on a distant tree, Maverick did two more flybys as Goose kept up his incessant call. On the fourth fly by, Maverick dove toward the branch, grabbed the squirrel without ever landing and soared up to a higher branch nearly 50 yards away. The forest fell silent except for the distant chirps of a few cardinals and rustling leaf litter as squirrels scrambled for nibbles of food.
I was pretty sure these were red-tailed hawks, but that was not confirmed until the end of my hike. Friends rounded the corner of the nature center just as I returned. After I shared this experience, they pulled up the Merlin Bird ID App from The Cornell Lab on their iPad. With that app, we confirmed the coloring and physical features were that of a red-tailed hawk, and the call was one of a juvenile. (The website offers similar information.) Red-tailed hawks do sometimes hunt together, which is what this pair appeared to do. Whether it was a juvenile and a parent, or two siblings, or mates, I don’t know.
The intensity of the moment with these hawks dissolved every distraction, even my own rambling thoughts, until Maverick flew away with his scraps. Then, the nuances of each pattern of brown bark had more clarity, the patterns more vivid, the shades sharper. I felt lifted, my stride longer and lighter than minutes before. I’ve read that hawks, as bird totems and spirit animals, are messengers that guide intuition, initiative and focus; they represent the power of vision, perception and influence. It is likely I would have missed this moment entirely had I been fussing with my camera trying too hard to capture it. (yep, left the camera at home) Instead, I felt part of their world for one unexpected, remarkable moment. (hawk photo credit: Wikipedia website)
Note ~ If you’re interested in the Merlin app, it is currently available for iPad/iPhone and an Android version will be available summer 2014. You can download content to your device to use regardless of internet access or cell service. If you prefer a traditional field guide, nothing compares to The Sibley Guide to Birds, the highly anticipated revised edition of which was just recently released.