Better the Raptor

I play at predator each fall. What hours I can spare from making a living, I spend slinking around the mountains and sagebrush steppe. In a good year I’ll kill an antelope, an elk, maybe a deer and a few birds. These I bring home to my family, where I pour more hours, and more love, into butchering the animals than a non-hunter is likely to understand. If all goes well, the lives I take will account for our protein until I go out again the next fall. It’s not really about the food though. Hunting returns me to the complex community of life that – though invisible to most of us, most of the time – underpins our very existence. The meat is important to us, don’t get me wrong. But if I fail, we won’t go hungry. There’s a supermarket just down the road. What I can’t get anywhere else is the chance to sink my teeth directly into the fundamental stuff of life. The act is more important to me than the acquisition.

This fresh epiphany was helped along by some new neighbors. They see things differently. A pair of red-tailed hawks have taken up residence for the spring in a giant cottonwood behind the house. My wife, our son and I in turn, have taken up residence on the back porch, a family of voyeurs huddled each evening around the spotting scope. As the raptors go about their business, we are pulled through a 60 power window into another reality – a world in which no one is playing at anything. They have no back-up plan, only talons, beaks, eyes, and focus. There is no differentiation between act and acquisition, and there is no daylight for the hawks between living and killing. From our vantage point, they appear to be very good at both. It’s a helluva show in so many ways. Mostly it’s humbling.

Surely profound wisdom wheels and dives amid the drama playing out above my roof. I hope someday it will find me. In the meantime one lesson has made it through, loud and clear.

Better to be the raptor than the rodent.

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