In a world of cameras, I am among a small minority. I travel with a camera, yet take few if any pictures. Some of the most profound experiences in our lives are not meant to be experienced second-hand. There is little beneficial to be found in returning again and again to a necessarily two-dimensional slice of a four-dimensional experience, turning it over, dissecting it for meaning or value unnoticed at the time.
By abandoning any desire to capture a moment on film, I free myself to experience it first hand, in all of its multi-sensual context. A true high fidelity experience.
In a city filled with lightly-wooded hills made of glacial detrius, there are no cliffs; the local raptors prefer to nest on top of the local-equivalent of skyscrapers. The state Department of Transportation building is no different, home to at least one red tailed hawk. The nine-storey building provides her excellent vantage, and its position between two lakes yields some of the best air conditions for flying in the city.
Until yesterday, my experiences with our local bird of prey had been limited to glimpses of her swooping past the windows near my cubicle on the eight floor and one stunning encounter with her and a pair of angry blue jays whose nest appeared to have been unfortunate enough to come to her attention one early summer afternoon a year or so ago.
Yesterday was windy, cold and grimly cloudy, a reminder of the weekend's storm front that had swept through the area, dropping inches of rain, and stripping away the last of the warm days of summer. A knot of hunger had driven my from my desk towards the cafeteria, in hopes of finding something warm to eat (an unlikely prospect that late in the day).
A flutter of motion outside the glass doors leading into the cafeteria's courtyard drove all of that out of my mind. I became entranced by the scene unfolding outside, one of the black-wire courtyard tables serving as a makeshift stage.
The hawk perched alertly on of the accompanying chairs, an image of almost serene expectation. Were she able to speak in a language any of us could have understood, I would not have been surprised to hear her say "well then, I'm ready for dinner now."
For the first time, I was in a position to understand exactly how big a raptor is. In the sky, away from any sort of benchmark for comparison, it can be difficult to tell.
I was not the only one to sit their watching her. The young cleaning woman, taking a break from wiping down tables to join me at the window, asked if I thought the bird wanted "bread or something." I stifled a chuckle, and explained that she probably would prefer bunny. Then the hawk jumped up on the table, and it was clear that she had already arranged for dinner for herself. She perched on the table and proceeded to tear into one small mammal that would no longer need to concern itself with surviving the winter.
The cleaning girl stepped outside to try to take a picture. She moved closer and closer to the hawk, and I feared she might frighten the magnificent creature off.
Then again, if I had talons the size of that bird's, I wouldn't have been overly concerned by anyone coming near me.
After a quick look at the clock, I stepped outside as well. Not attempting to go near the bird, I was content to sit on the white stone retaining wall around the courtyard. The cold of the stone seeped through my jeans, and my face was quickly reddened by the gusting wind. I sat half hunched over, my too-light jacket pulled tight around me against the cold.
And for ten minutes, I did nothing but watch. A face to beak encounter with "nature red in tooth and claw." Or beak and talon, as it was.
Most people found the act of her consuming prey to be disgusting; I only found it profound and powerful. I never wanted it to end.