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April 26, 2010

Dave And Hawks

Dave always had a thing about hawks. It began when he was very young and our family would take long driving trips on vacation or to visit relatives. While his older brother sat in the backseat next to him reading a book or listening to music, Dave would scan the farm fields, the trees and the fence posts that rushed by his window, his private cavalcade of nature. Sometimes his gaze would be rewarded with a glimpse of a deer or a ground hog and occasionally a wild turkey. But he had a special affinity for spotting hawks. Sometimes he would see one on the wing as it swam effortlessly through the currents of the sky rising and falling with the warm thermals that rose from the earth. Other times he would spy one as it sat serenely and majestically in a tall tree quietly surveying the wide fields of its territory that opened before it. Often he would call out when one came into view so that we both could share in his discovery and other times he would sit quietly keeping his observation to himself, reveling in it silently as if there was a special bond between him and this bird of prey. Hawks were indeed his special bird and he never tired of searching the sides of the road and the sky above for them.

The day after Dave died from abusing a computer duster inhalant his 4th grade teacher visited our home to share our grief. Diane had lost her son suddenly three years before in a car accident. Her words of comfort and advice helped us immeasurably as we slept waked through those first unspeakable days. Among her gems of wisdom born from her own painful loss, was the suggestion that we select and adopt a symbol for Dave, something that every time we would encounter it would bring and hold his spirit close to us. His mother and brother and I considered many symbols that afternoon but decided to not be hasty in our choice lest another come to us later on that we might deem more meaningful.

Late that same day the three of us drove to the church to meet with the priest and plan the services that we wanted to celebrate our son and brother’s life. As we topped a slight rise and descended into a shallow valley a red tailed hawk, chasing a starling, swooped down from my left and over the front of the car not 10 feet from us. I turned to my wife who was conversing with my son in the back seat and excitedly exclaimed “Did you see that….did you see that?” But no….they had not, and I thought silently to myself, “If David were here he wouldn’t have missed it.”

The next day I had decided to go to the fire station that housed the ambulance crew that responded to the 911 call. They had come quickly and worked feverishly to revive Dave and then transported him to the emergency room of a nearby hospital where he died. I wanted to thank the men and women of Fire Station 4 for all that they did in trying to save my 16 year old son. As I approached the turn into the fire station parking lot another red tailed dove in front of my car and then sailed off over the station and into the trees behind. As I sat quietly in the parking lot of the Firehouse summoning the courage and the words I would use to thank the paramedics who had been with my son as his life ebbed away…I whispered softly to myself, “I hear you Dave, I know what my symbol must be now, thank you my precious son, thank you for giving it to me.”

In the months that have followed we have experienced many special moments with hawks. One of the more remarkable incidents occurred over Labor Day weekend that same year. That Sunday morning as my wife and I awoke and lay beside one another trying to clear the sleep from our eyes, she began to cry softly. I held her in my arms for a while and then, knowing that these things must run their course in their own time and in their own way, I left her to make some coffee, telling her to join me when she felt up to it.

It was a beautiful September morning and I decided we would sit out on the deck and enjoy the warmth of the sun, the wind in the trees and the songs of the birds. Stepping out to put up the deck umbrella, I was greeted by a chorus of crows cawing angrily as they swirled about the largest tree in our back yard. Near the top of the tree sitting quietly and unconcerned was a small hawk not much larger than the crows that were circling it menacingly. I called to my wife who rushed to join me and for the next half an hour we sat mesmerized by the interplay of these two very different birds. The crows wheeling and diving at the hawk to drive it away, and the hawk with an air of distain for its protagonists perched confidently and aloof somehow rising above the din. Occasionally, the hawk would leave it comfortable roost and take the offensive in an attempt to end the annoyance, always returning to his branch where he sat serene and confident. After some time, as we marveled at the choreography of this aerial ballet unfolding before us, the hawk abruptly left the trees and plunged head long for the ground and then pulling up sharply, lightly landed near the deck of the house next door not thirty five feet away from where we stood. The hawk then spent the next few minutes scampering around the base of the deck, it’s intentions entirely unknown to us and yet we were enthralled. After some minutes, the hawk took wing and disappeared much to the relief of the crows and other small animals that had cowered and hidden when the alarm has been sounded.

After the hawks departure my wife and I held each other closely knowing we had just experience an extraordinary event and acknowledging that our wonderful son had heard our cries of despair and had dispatched a winged surrogate to come to our aid. Some quick research in our bird book determined that we had been visited by a Cooper’s Hawk, a some what diminutive member of the hawk family compared to our beloved Red Tailed, that was at home in densely forested areas and yet more recently had been making regular appearances in suburban areas. And yet for us, we cared not what habitat was usual and customary for this spirit that had blessed us with its presence. For a couple of months he appeared every morning and every evening about two hours before sunset sometimes alighting on the railing of our deck, at one point as I sat there not 10 feet away. And then as quickly as he appeared he was gone, leaving us with warm memories as the cold winds of November blew the leaves from the branches of the trees he had made his own.

A year later he returned again around the 1st of September and this time he was not alone. Our Coopers Hawk was accompanied by a slightly larger version; his mate. And now we look forward to new adventures with our hawks.

Dave always had a thing for Hawks, be it Red Tailed, Red Shouldered, or Cooper’s, he loved to see them swim through the currents of the sky or sit majestically at the highest point of a large oak.

And now we have a thing for Hawks.

April 26, 2010 at 10:22 AM in The Journey | Permalink



I just wanted to thank you for all that you do to help others learn from what your family and those of us who love David have experienced. I admire your immeasurable devotion to his memory. You are truly a gifted writer and I am genuinely inspired by you, Marissa, and Josh. I read a story in a local newspaper not long ago that, after reading your story about Dave and his love for hawks, I felt I should share with you. The website is http://www.palemale.com. The story is one of resilience and one can not help but be impressed and even inspired by the palemale birds. I wish you the best and once again would like to express my gratitude to you and your family. See you soon.

"All my life I always wanted to fly. I always wanted to live like a hawk ... To take flight, to soar above everything and everyone, now that's living ... Proud, powerful, determined ... A hawk ... soars above us. He can fly. One of these days ... I'm going to fly, too."

- from "O," a modern retelling of Othello

Posted by: Stephanie Shaw | Nov 26, 2005 5:29:19 AM

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