The Hawk and the Ravens

[The following piece was written while spending a couple weeks in Idaho last June. I meant to post it then.]

Red tailed hawk.


The horrible scream of a creature in mortal distress comes from the trees just up the dirt bank from us, breaking the peaceful silence of our morning walk in the forest with its sudden, shrill alarm. This isn’t normal forest chatter. This is serious.

I’m wandering through Idaho’s Payette Forest this cool spring morning with my three dogs, following an old logging road that sees little use these days. Maia and Meadow, the malamutes, spent many fine hours with me in this forest between 2005 and 2008 when we lived in Idaho full time. Finn MacCool, my young, red tri mini-Aussie, joined our pack just six months before we moved back to Seattle in late 2008, has less experience here. Now, in May 2011, we’re visiting our old home after too much time away.

Today, I feel as though we’re the only inhabitants of the forest, it’s so peaceful and undisturbed. The sun streaks through the thin clouds to highlight the newly blossoming arrowroot flowers decorating the rocky hillsides. Tamaracks add another filter to the sun’s rays. The dogs are enjoying the usual onslaught of smells: animal footprints in the dirt; scat left behind by foxes, coyotes, deer and elk; so many scents floating on the cool breeze past their keen, uplifted nostrils. I hear the distinctive thump thump thump of a deer or elk bounding away, unseen in the trees. Finn chases small birds and squirrels; he’s always chasing after whatever moves. A turkey gobbles an alert from its vantage point a few yards into the trees. The dogs and I are all excited to be back, even if the girls are older and slower and no longer interested in chasing wildlife, like Finn. It feels…like home.

But this home can sometimes also be a raw, violent place.

In the time it takes me to turn my head toward the screeching sound, a red-tailed hawk swoops out of the branches of a Tamarack pine just up slope, flying across the old dirt road the dogs and I are walking along, not ten feet from us. A small forest chipmunk – the source of that awful scream – is squirming in the hawk’s talons as it glides toward the tops of the trees down slope. Two huge, black ravens immediately swoosh out of the trees, closely following the hawk, cawing loudly, hoping to threaten the hawk into giving up his cunningly earned, squirming fresh meal.

All three birds are oblivious to the dogs and me, watching this spectacle of hunter and prey play out vividly – and loudly – mere feet away.

As instantly as it happened, it’s over – at least as far as my own ability to observe. I can no longer hear the birds, or the chipmunk. The dogs return to their own endeavors, closer to ground, unconcerned about the life and death drama that just played out before their eyes. I don’t know how the drama ends, although I hope the hawk keeps his bounty. The ravens seem too opportunistic, parasitic. I prefer the purity of the hawk’s efforts.
Rebecca WallickComment