Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Highway people -- the hawk

The red-tailed hawk sits on a tall light pole overlooking I-84 in east Portland. Beneath him, a stream of cars creeps along a maze of over- and underpasses through a district of light industrial, warehouses and railroad tracks.

The hawk sits tall and dignified, with his wings folded. Maybe he's watching for prey or maybe he's only gazing sleepily at the dirty metal river that flows beneath him.

I've seen him before--or one like him--a few miles south, hunting on the median strip of I-205. He hovered as if frozen in mid-air, talons extended. I didn't see his prey, but he saw it. Suddenly as I watched, he dropped like a stone. The river carried me away before I knew what he hunted or whether he caught it.

These creatures are a doorway into another world, where life and death are exchanged minute by minute. No wonder he watches us so smugly: we are encased in metallic bubbles, bobbing along the current, inured and blind to the predation and rapture around us. Does he know that we are dangerous, both for him and for each other? I fear the day I see him lying dead beside the road.

I don't think he nurses any such fear for me.

UPDATE: Maybe I should point out the irony that I did my first draft of this post on a Palm handheld, steering with my knee, as I negotiated the traffic.

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