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A Gift, Hurled from the Other Side

Saturday, January 16, 2016


I was sitting at the drawing table, trying to keep my spine straight as I finished the last of a tedious couple of months of edits and revisions to a how-to book I put together 15 years ago. One doesn't really "write" a how-to book. One puts it together.

 I entered the last edit on p. 230, pasted in the painstaking revision of a six-page Resources section, every entry and detail of which had been obsolete, and sent the dang thing off to the publisher. Don't get me wrong. It's a good book. How-to's just not my bag, never was. 

I took a deep breath and started a status update for Facebook, the little crutch/reward system I lean on when my work threatens to grind me to powder. 

"Just finished an incredibly tedious, months-eating rewrite, edit and update of Natural Gardening for Birds, a book I put together 15 years ago for Rodale Books. The thought that I might now...

And before I could continue with 

get to do something I want to is a heady one...

a great big dark shadow swooped through the feeder area just to my left. A roar of wings as doves and finches, sparrows and cardinals exploded in panic. I was off the drafting stool, lunging for my camera, and sock-foot skidding to the foyer window before you could say COOPER'S HAWK!!

My first photo was diagnostic, but not stellar. I was skidding to a halt, after all. So was she.


My second photo was The One. Jesus Mary and Joseph what a beautiful killer she is, clasping the branch with her crooked yellow hands, her eye ablaze, her outer tail feathers exclamation points!!!
Sure, there are branches crossing her, but I love this photo. She's landed in that birch like she was hurled there.

 She's just alighted and she's already planning to leave. Might as well go for it, might get lucky.


My third photo is her leaving in pursuit of juncos and white-throated sparrows.  She wound up diving right into a brushpile Bill created about a month ago, literally dove into the center of it trying to get a sparrow. Came out empty fisted, beat deep into the woods. Total elapsed time from seeing the blur of her incoming rocket to her departure: about four seconds. Raptors make my heart beat faster. Accipiters make it fibrillate.


It didn't take long for a big smile to creep across my face, as I looked at the photos and it hit me that my Dear Old Dad was mighty proud that I'd finally shoved that damn book across the finish line (again), 15 years after I did it the first time. 

And maybe he sent that beautiful Coop to say Huzzah! and Life Goes On! and Join the Party! and maybe just Hello, Julie. I'm here. You are accompanied.

He works with hawks. Hawks are his apports, the gifts he sends me from the other side.

I didn't know that word until my friend Charles taught it to me today, as we compared notes about synchronicity and messages from the departed. Far, far too many perfectly timed gifts arrive on his doorstep and mine to be chalked up to happy chance.

And the synch-up contintued when my friend Caroline from South Dakota (via New York) posted a link today to an interview with photographer Ken Van Sickle. Everything he said about photography resonated deeply with me.  Perhaps my favorite thing he said was 

"If you were there when the Hindenburg caught on fire, and you took a picture of it, that’s a great photograph. But you’re not a great photographer, because you can’t repeat that in everyday things.
"What a great photographer does is, they are consistently able to make something in a style that’s personal to themselves. My pictures don’t depend on extreme sharpness. They depend on the composition and on the subject and on the way I see it."

If you'd like to listen to his brief but spectacular interview, go here, to PBS News Hour's page.

I don't pretend that my Cooper's hawk shot is a great photograph. There's no composing a photo when you have your camera set on center auto focus, and the hawk is perched in front of you for perhaps two of the four seconds it takes you to get off your ass, grab an 8-pound rig, and skid down a hall and into a foyer. You center the thing on the bird, hold your breath and try not to punch the shutter button too hard. You punch it on the first shot, squeeze it on the second and third, and the hawk does the rest. Time's up.

However, I was there  and I did have my camera so in my view this qualifies as a Hindenberg moment. And that, and my Dad sending me a honkin' big adult female Coop as I was running my victory lap, is plenty enough for me.

More hawkish synchronicity in the next post. I'm not leaving South Africa behind. But every once in awhile the present bursts out of the woods, grabs me by the shirtfront, shakes me down and demands an audience.


13 comments:

No ifs, and, or if onlys, Julie, this is the most awesome spontaneous "nature, red in tooth and claw" photo I've ever clapped eyes on. Wowzers.

She is gorgeous! So glad you grabbed the moment!

Thank you for the new word and the confirmation that such gifts are not mere coincidence. Mine was a single perfect rose on a barren bush in October at the time of our anniversary. Wonderful how the gifts cannot be misunderstood; yours a Cooper's Hawk, mine a brilliant bloom on his favorite bush. Feels warm, like a phantom hug.

Oh, how this made me hold my breath as you ran to the window, and then smile with glee that you got such a magnificent record of her visit! You and your on line presence are such a gift to me, Julie. I wish you knew just how much. XO

Breathless. Speechless.
Huzzah!
That is al.

Um, that would be ALL.
(Wish Blogger would give me an opportunity to correct.)

Beautiful...
...and it all reminds me a bit of this wonderful piece I just heard on NPR's "Snap Judgment" yesterday (very different, but also about daughters, dads, & birds):

https://soundcloud.com/snapjudgment/the-birds-snap-judgment-omen?in=snapjudgment/sets/omen

Moment of wonder caught on film. I do think that is a great shot of a proud beauty, none the worse and in my eye the better for being captured in habitat, while still showing great field marks with rare clarity. Thanks, Julie's Dad, for the gift.

Posted by Gail Spratley January 17, 2016 at 6:33 AM
This comment has been removed by the author.

Amazing photo. Amazing story. Amazing blog. Keep posting, Julie, for the rest of us.

Love everything about this post!

Just great. So happy for you and the whole papa package!xxoom.

She apports in hummingbirds. Which would be problematic in the winter, but I travel and so does she.

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