Wednesday, February 26, 2020
…life in the wild kingdom…
It was a pleasant, early-spring afternoon and I’d decided to sit out on the back patio with a good book and a glass of what we’ll call lemonade. Absorbed in whatever I was reading, my concentration was shattered by a pronounced thump over my shoulder followed by a furious whoosh of wing and feather swooping under and out of the patio’s overhang. The thump, I recognized. Another little gray bird had collided with our window, probably knocking himself silly. Setting down the book, I set out to find his pulsating body somewhere figuring I’d end up unceremoniously depositing him in the compost bin.
Searching low and then high, in the branch of an overhanging black oak, I spotted a small raptor of some sort, head pivoting toward me, then toward something else: our shared quarry. I moved behind the heavy stucco pillar. The LGB wasn’t on the concrete or in the gardening shelves. He wasn’t in the planter, either. Settling back into my chair, I could observe the rust-colored hawk shifting on the branch. The LGB must still be near and the little hawk – with better eyes than mine – must know where. After a time, I returned to my chair and picked up my book.
Almost immediately, the raptor fluttered down from the oak and took up sentry on the edge of a raised bed planter. The eyes on birds are located on the side of the skull rather than the front. While this affords the predators a wider field of vision in order to spot a scurrying field mouse or errant sparrow, it means they must tip their heads one way, then the other, to see what’s directly in front. Head tipping left, then right, the rusty hawk kept an eye on me, but also kept an eye on a bonsai hemlock hidden from my view by the pillar. Investigating, I found the LGB had taken stock-still refuge in the dense foliage of the hemlock.
So, it was to be a waiting game. The hawk – it turned out to be a Sharp-shinned, according to my Peterson guide – paced on the edge of the raised bed. The little gray bird – birdbrain though he was – knew his best action would be no action. Time ticked slowly by. Patience… Life or death concentration… More patience…
I don’t know what distracted the little hawk, but more focused than the hawk on the quarry was the quarry itself. The exact moment was marked only by a rustling of the hemlock’s branches. In a blink of an eye, the little bird was gone into the woods over the fence. Confounded, the Sharp-shinned, flew up to his vantage point in the black oak. And I’m sure I heard him mutter, “Next time.”
In the early 60s, Marlon Perkins, curator of the big zoo in St Louis, had cause one day to visit my next-door neighbor in Chico, California. The neighbor had owned a small circus for a time and Perkins had stopped by for a chat about lions or tigers and to cool off with a mint julep or two. Mr. Perkins grinned at me when I hopped over the fence. He rubbed my red head and asked, “What part of the wild kingdom do you come from?”
I thought about this little exchange after the standoff in my back yard between the hawk and the LGB and realize that part of the Wild Kingdom exists right here in Clover Springs.
Church of the Open Road Press