In the church parking lot, a bush full of sparrows and, above, a hawk. She sits patient, empty-taloned. They flit within, hackles up so to speak. She sits. Waits. She looks at me watching her from across the street, fifteen feet away. A car passes. She looks down into the tangle of branches, winter pruned and bare, the plump sparrows within tittering with panic. She doesn’t move.
I think of the documentarians who broke the rules of their trade to save a penguin chick trapped under the ice. I stay on my side of the street. The hawk knows the score, has time. She hops down to the ground, where the snow has only melted off in these last two days of rain. The sparrows flutter to the far corner. She circles, and they circle, their orbits opposite, without and within. A school bus passes.
Once, when we lived on a wheat farm in the Palouse, my wife and I found a dead kestrel on the side of the dirt road that ran by our house. He was pristine, undamaged, wings folded neatly at his side like some aviary mortician had seen to him. There was nothing but a thousand acres of rolling wheat and soy, the dirt road, which no one used except us. My wife picked him up, splayed his wings, explored the tiny body, her scientist impulses immediate. His heart is beating, she said, and handed him to me.
He felt like nothing, like a form made of air and energy and nothing. And she was right. There, beneath the down of his breast, the flutter of a tiny heart. We set him in the tall grass that grew on the field edge, and when we went back by some minutes later he was gone. Scavenged or resurrected we will never know.
Every field is full of death and of flight. It is the fundamental language of God’s world. It is brutal and beautiful. It is good, and it is not. It was good, and it will be. God has written death into the fabric and rebirth into the fringes.
Now the hawk hits the bush, fights her way into the thicket. It happens fast, and it is only after she emerges with one of the sparrows in her talon and retreats to a nearby ponderosa that the surviving sparrows blast out of the bush and fly, in formation, into the feathery cover of an arborvitae, half a block down. The hawk, perched high in the ponderosa, picks the meat from the tiny body with the hook of her beak. It is still warm with blood, with breath.