About twenty years ago, my then roommate introduced me to the hawks. It might sound strange, but I had never really noticed them and how many there were, and how much they were a part of my everyday scenery. She pointed them out and once aware of them, I became fascinated, reading whatever I could find about their behavior, migration, and daily existence. That also included much of the mythology that surrounds the birds themselves.
Native American legend tells of the hawk as a spiritual messenger because it moves between heaven and earth, sometimes carrying messages between those two realms. I was hooked and became quite good at spotting these beautiful fierce creatures while I was driving the highways and back country roads. They became an accepted and staple part of my existence, so much so, that there are individuals who believe that I call them simply by my presence.
I don’t know if that is a valid truth, but it is not unusual for me to sight between ten to twenty of them during a two to three hour drive. Personally, I really like them, enjoy watching them soar, exchange food in the air, or just sit like silent sentinels in trees, or on high wire communication towers. I used to go for drives just to see them.
One day, out for a drive and a bit of bird watching, I turned off the highway onto a side road. Was immediately aware of the hawk perched atop the telephone pole to my left. I pulled the car over, almost beneath her but on the opposite side of the road. It was an old telephone pole, not all that tall, and I was amazed that she didn’t launch herself immediately as I stopped the vehicle and rolled down my window. Hawks spook as easily as most wild creatures. We simply stared at one another for several moments.
Then I started talking to her, telling her softly, almost in a whisper, how beautiful and fierce she was. That I knew she was a messenger and how much I wished I could speak her language and maybe get a message from her presence. She slowly began to spread her wings, but instead of launching herself into the air, she simply stepped off her perch and gently floated down to the ground in front of the car. She was about twenty feet from where I and my friend were sitting, staring in awe.
Once she landed, she looked directly at me, then started to pace the ground in a slow circle. We watched. She would stop every few steps and look back at us, then resume her circular path. Once the circle was completed, she turned herself around and again paced off the circle, occasionally looking up and directly into the windshield. Neither of us spoke, we were too busy watching. She completed the circle, turned around again and walked it one more time, again pausing to seemingly make sure she had our attention. She did.
This time when she completed the circle, she looked in our direction and then launched herself upward to rest atop another telephone pole on the opposite side of the road. I grabbed for the door and my friend said quietly, “don’t go out there, you’ll scare her off. ” The bird was sitting quietly staring at us and all I could think of was that she wanted me to go look. So I did.
I left the car, being careful not to slam the door, and walked the short way over to where she had been walking. In the very center of the circle was a feather, dark brown to black, bedraggled from the rain and weather. As I bent to pick it up, the hawk launched herself skyward. I brought the feather back to the car, got in, and we watched her soar, in an ever widening circle, then finally disappear into the sky moving in a Westerly direction.
My friend and I didn’t speak about much else as we drove home. When we arrived, I carefully washed the feather in warm water and placed it upright in a vase to dry. It was the first of many I collected during the years that followed. At that time, I was just beginning to learn about the world of symbolism and its meanings. Back then, I didn’t fully understand the wonder of what had taken place, what the particular message might be in all of what happened, but did know one thing. I had been given a gift. By a hawk.
Had I fully understood the message, I might have been disturbed instead of elated. I might have been more attentive, but I certainly wouldn’t have been able to stop what would occur over the following months and years. The friend I was with was also the roommate I earlier mentioned. She had some sort of breakdown and the friendship was torn apart in an extremely painful manner to both of us. She left my life and I was devastated by that occurrence.
Looking back on the incident now, I can finally understand the message inherent in the gift the hawk gave to me. When my friend left my life, I lost a great deal, including a large portion of my faith and the belief system that had carried me through all the years before. I had to start over, from scratch. It wasn’t easy and it was a very slow and gradual climb out of the grief and pain I was experiencing. For a long time, my life, as I had known it til then, was as bedraggled as that one lone feather.
Feathers are a symbol of truth, particularly personal truth. Life and its ongoing occurrences can be like the rain and weather that had muddied and marred the feather I was given. Feathers are incredibly lightweight, and don’t simply fall downward when dropped from a height. A single feather will spiral and float as it descends. Yet, a number of feathers can lift life off the ground and allow it to soar into the heavens.
According to some belief systems, West is the direction of the future and the unknown. When I turned off the highway onto the side road, I was headed in a Southerly direction. South is the direction that symbolizes childhood and the world of the emotions. It is in childhood that we begin to build the belief system that carries us through our lives and existence.
As I said before, the feather was dark brown to black. More than likely that of a crow. Crows are a symbol of higher law, higher than that of man and of earthly existence. Spiritual law is the only thing higher. And it was my spiritual belief system that took a beating. However, it was not totally destroyed and once again, became the cornerstone of how I thought, reasoned, and understood my own existence.
Sometimes circumstances come into our lives to cleanse it of old habits and views that are no longer working for us. I believe that is what happened to me, and I believe that is what the hawk was sent to help me to understand from the gift she gave me. I never stopped caring and being concerned about my friend. After ten long years of silence, we are once again back in contact with one another.
It isn’t the same, we are very different people now. But it is good. We talk and laugh together, reminding one another of all those road trips we took and how often they were enhanced by encounters with hawks and other wild creatures.
I still see a lot of hawks, a few right in my own small backyard. They have come to mean a very specific message to me. That is to remember who I truly am, not just in this moment, but in all of my moments, both future and past, but most important, the present.