No, this isn’t a Zen koan, or a set-up for some ‘two birds walk into an aviary’ joke.
For years, I’ve been fascinated with hawks. When asked my favorite animals, hawks and whales are usually the first that come to mind. As a fan of the perpetual underdog, one might wonder why I am drawn to these top-of-the-food-chain creatures. I think it has less to do with might than with majesty. A whale isn’t a predator in my mind, he’s just a hefty guy who’s gotta eat, as opposed to, say, a shark, who takes a Marquis de Sade approach to suppertime.
While hawks certainly show little mercy when tracking a squirrel or a finch, I stand amazed at the way they carry themselves on high. They fly with purpose, elegance, a sense of dominion. When I see one, I do that thing Elaine’s boyfriend on “Seinfeld” did whenever he heard the Eagles sing “Desperado”. Staring into the middle distance, mouth agape, I make everyone around me stop and hush so I can just admire the hawk’s aerial stride, her unconscious insistence that I let go of whatever I thought was important at that moment and just appreciate her wild grace.
Sometimes, though, I see a wingspan in the distance and get giddy about the divine experience ahead, only to learn that I am actually watching a vulture. A buzzard. The hawk’s old world Accipitridae cousin. A carrion consuming creep who doesn’t even have the cajones to chase down his own food. He’s ornithology’s answer to the dumpster diver.
From a distance, these two birds are easy to confuse. Both have impressive wing spans and can coast through the air for quite some time between flutters. Both are bold enough to fly over areas inhabited by humans. However, upon closer inspection, it’s easy to spot the difference. The vulture’s wings appear serrated, allowing the wind to wreak havoc with their aerial balance. They actually appear to be fighting against the elements just to get where they are going. The hawk - at least to the human eye - appears less subject to resistance. She uses the wind to her advantage, and never seems to be at odds with her surroundings. To be soaring one hundred feet high and having the wind at your command seems a mighty and enviable proposition.
So what’s my point here? I guess I better have one lest I become the subject of protests from the Maligned & Misunderstood Buzzard Anti-Defamation Wake. I think the reason I am so enamored with hawks is that their movement, while mighty, seems so effortless. It’s aerial Tai-Chi. The vulture’s plight seems to be one of not only drawing the Darwinian short straw, but also not being able to do more with less. If the folks at Looney Tunes are correct, buzzards are not the brightest of beasts. Perhaps if they figured out how to embrace the wind instead of fight it, they might find their travels easier, and their buffet options more bountiful. If I were to make the evolutionary leap over to humankind, I would say the same for myself. Perhaps you can relate as well. Some days we are subject to life’s gales, be it winds of change or just reacting to so much hot air blown our way. How we navigate it says a lot about who we are...and how far we fly.