The prompt this time was Brian Doyle’s clever, playful, thoughtful essay, “Raptorous” from Orion Magazine. To read the essay in its entirety, click here. A brief excerpt is below, followed by what I wrote.
From “Raptorous,” by Brian Doyle
I HAVE BEEN SO hawk-addled and owl-absorbed and falcon-haunted and eagle-maniacal since I was a little kid that it was a huge shock to me to discover that there were people who did not think that seeing a sparrow hawk helicoptering over an empty lot and then dropping like an anvil and o my god coming up with wriggling lunch was the coolest thing ever.
I mean, who could possibly not be awed by a tribe whose various members can see a rabbit clearly from a mile away (eagles), fly sideways through tree branches like feathered fighter jets (woodhawks), look like tiny brightly colored linebackers (kestrels, with their cool gray helmets), hunt absolutely silently on the wing (owls), fly faster than any other being on earth (falcons), and can spot a trout from fifty feet in the air, gauge piscine speed and direction, and nail the dive and light-refraction and wind-gust and trout-startle so perfectly that it snags three fish a day (our friend the osprey)? Not to mention they look cool—they are seriously large, they have muscles on their muscles, they are stone-cold efficient hunters with built-in butchery tools, and all of them have this stern I could kick your ass but I am busy look, which took me years to discover was not a general simmer of surliness but a result of the supraorbital ridge protecting their eyes.
Eyes like a hawk. That one is familiar. They can see a mile down, a fish splashing in the water, a field mouse mousing along the underbrush. Talons opening at just the right moment. Wings extending three feet, or more? I’m trying to stay in this moment, this moment of awe: seeing the hummingbird hover above the cypress trees in Carpenteria, or the goldfinch hanging upside down on the bird feeders at Nina’s; the honeybees landing on purple blossoms on the median on Cesar Chavez St. The tiny moth crazy for the flame at dinner. I cup him in my hand and release him into the night air.
But on the radio, a young woman reports that the majority of wild species on this planet have dropped in populations by nearly 40% in the last fifty years, while the human race has grown 200%. African lions and elephants, part of a long list that was familiar and disturbing. “This might be our last chance to save the bees,” reads the subject line of an email from Food Democracy Now. “Stop the use of nicotinoids.” How many times will I click the submit button before something actually changes, or worse: I finally give up?
The news is full of fear-insighting stories. I’m a daily witness to Armageddon, my psyche so infiltrated that when I hear that Iraqi soldiers have held a town on the Syrian border, defeating ISIS rebels, I actually cheer out loud. War games, and all of them in the name of God.
When thousands of red-winged blackbirds fall from the sky, when polar bears, thin and desperate, cling to tiny floating chunks of ice, when whales wash up on California shores bleeding from their ears, I tell myself it’s all coming to an end soon. But it goes on. Just as I do.
I no longer have falcon eyes; I need readers over contact lenses or I can’t read my text messages. My joints ache and seize. The hollowness under my eyes grows deeper and darker. And yet, like the sparrows, we all continue to eat and drink and reproduce. Even I—after degrading my florescently-lit self in the locker room mirrors at the gym—even I came home, showered, put concealer under my eyes, put on jeans and a baby blue t-shirt and prepared myself for a date with a man too, too young for me.
Later, when he slid his hands down my back and I opened myself to him, he said, “You knew what you were doing, tucking that t-shirt into your jeans. You knew you would get me going.” But I didn’t. Really. I tucked that t-shirt in because it was too long. And yet, didn’t I work with this body that’s slowly breaking down, too? Didn’t I primp and preen like any male bird, trying to get the object of my affection to choose me, to press against me and release himself? To give in? Maybe it wasn’t deliberate, but it wasn’t without intention.
What is there to do but continue? Even a three-legged dog bounds forth with joy for those remaining feet beneath his body. Even the pigeons (which everyone hates, though they are protected birds), even they keep right on living. I’m not a big fan of pigeons, but they do leave me with a feeling of reverence when they startle and roar upward in one great throb. Even they make me look up and squint into the sun as they circle around gracefully, then land again.