In life, as in books, it’s sometimes hard to identify the hero. And sometimes – well, the difference between heroes and villains just seems to be a matter of perspective.
Earlier this year, my daughters and I got all wrapped up in the story of My Side of the Mountain, in particular young Sam Gribley’s relationship with his hand-raised falcon, Frightful. Frightful often killed and brought to Sam all sorts of small woodland animals which would be eaten by the two of them for dinner – an idea that sounds admittedly off-putting now, but actually didn’t at the time. The cleverness of Frightful was too enthralling. What a brilliant bird! What a helpful bird! How lucky Sam was to have such a skillful hunter providing for him! Yay Frightful!
Then in April we were further delighted by the drama unfolding via the Hawk Cam at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website. High on a light pole above the athletic field, a hidden camera was recording every move of a pair of red-tailed hawks. Over a period of weeks we waited ever so patiently as Big Red and Ezra took turns sitting on their clutch of eggs, and held our breaths with the rest of the nation as the first pips occurred. When Big Red brought back a meal of fresh pigeon and fed bits of ragged flesh to her tiny hawklet for the first time, we watched with tears streaming down our faces. And no, we weren’t crying for the pigeon! It was the crazy beauty of those wild hawks, so unaware of the cameras in their lofty nest, and caring so tenderly for their young, that captivated us. This close up view of real-time nature, and the wonder with which the live-chat audience expressed their awe, created what was probably the most memorable web event I’ve ever witnessed. As the emotion died down and the pigeon-tartar snacks kept coming, one of my daughters glibly commented on the chat board that if this had been Pigeon Cam instead of Hawk Cam, we’d have a different kind of story – a comment not particularly appreciated by the moderator. Just the same, we were definitely rooting for the hawks.
Fast forward a couple of months and there we were raising our own little clutch of birds, savoring every peep and downy flutter as if they were the first and last batch of chickens ever to be observed by the human eye. When they reached that stage where they were just the shape and color (in our layman’s view) of young raptors, we thought fondly of Frightful, and Big Red, and Ezra. We almost lamented the moment they began to really and truly look like mere hens, and not majestic birds of prey after all.
But this morning, when our locally governing red-tail hawk swooped down to attack our lawn-grazing, unassuming, not-too-bright little darlings, all thoughts of Frightful and friends disappeared. The heroes of our story were our chickens, and the villain, as dark and menacing as Tolkein’s soaring Nazgûls, was that darn hawk. We chased him away in a fury, and in that moment, even the beauty of his familiar striped tail and broad shoulders, the thrill of seeing him so up-close as he perched defiantly on a nearby telephone wire, was completely overshadowed by concern for our helpless pets. (Yes, they are farm animals, and yes, they are pets. We may have crossed a line there, but so be it).
At first, once the hawk had left, we couldn’t find our chicks, and there was a horrible span of time in which we wondered if they’d been snatched after all. But then Katie found them, huddled behind the open screen door and mute with terror, waiting to either die or be rescued by their giant doting humans. And rescue them we did. Katie even happily sopped up the mess they’d made in the midst of the drama (who could blame them?). We still respect and admire our local hawk, and will happily gather his lovely tail feathers whenever he deigns to drop them about the property. And if he ever gets his own web cam, we’ll probably watch it. But for now anyway, the protagonists of our unfolding bird story remain the two growing chickens we’ve come to love.
Do YOU have something to share about perspective, life lessons, or whatever came to mind as you read this post? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section, below.