The air is so glacial it’s painful to have my hands out of my mittens even for several moments to tighten the straps on my friend’s snowshoes. Sometimes, despite the icebox that is Rochester at this time of year, we have days that are like those in the Caribbean. Brilliant, solid blue skies, blazing sun that creates the purest, sparkling white on snow like the glittering diamonds of lights on a turquoise sea. The only difference is it’s about 90 degrees cooler here and the ocean is a distant thought like the last remnants of coffee, no longer warm, hunkered down at the bottom of your mug.
So I walk out here to remember I’m alive. I walk out here to observe the death of autumn and the birth of winter. I walk out here to feel reborn. I move fast, my breath heaving, sweat trickling down my back and in between my breasts. I love the way the woods look so naked and unabashed shrouded in cloaks of white. I love the silence, the only sounds the steady crunch of snow underfoot and the meandering conversation between me and my old friend. I watch a hawk circle overhead. The sure and definite curve of its beak. I study its belly of white and its top a mess of browns, striations of sand after a receding wave.
I long for the hawk to grab me in its talons, lift me and show me the world from its eyes. I long to make slow cyclical arcs in the sky. A hawk is so regal, so elegant. And I long to cling to that royalty.
I see hawks often, sometimes two or three a day. I wonder if it’s a spiritual thing or simply mere coincidence. When I lived in Puerto Viejo, I used to rise early and swim in the ocean before it was filled with surfers and sunbathers. There was a hawk that accompanied me, or perhaps I should say I accompanied it. I used to see it settled on a branch, surveying its salty domain. I used to tread water and stare at it, wondering if it took notice of me at all. Wondering if it felt any kind of spiritual connection with me as I did with it.
I have always loved that hawks have substance. Where a songbird is delicate and dainty, a hawk is heady meat on a bone. A sturdy, muscular lion to a house cat. Girth, sinew, flight. Watching a hawk perched on a fence is like seeing a bear paw print in mud in Alaska. I remember bending over to study it more closely, a rush of goosebumps tumbling over me as I understood for the first time in my life the enormity of it. How wild they are to my domesticated life. How the heck would I react if ever confronted on the tundra there with one? The worst thing you can do is run for you immediately become prey. So you must stand to face it and back away slowly. The pumping adrenaline wooshing and drowning out any other sound for the following half an hour as you’ve no choice but to meditate on facing imminent death and winning.
If it weren’t so cold, I would snuggle down under a tree and observe this hawk for hours. The palpable four degree air doesn’t allow for it so I do not take the observant moments for granted. I follow the hawk’s slow, almost lackadaisical, circling. It appears effortless, a task completed with ease. I wonder what it sees, how fast its heart is beating, how warm it is, if it’s hungry or sated.
I look back down at the path ahead of me and begin to move again for warmth. Wanting one last look, I peer behind me and above but the hawk has already disappeared behind the copse of trees, off, I presume, to romance another snowshoe ambler.