I interrupted something. Something private. I couldn’t help but feel like what I saw was not meant for my eyes. And when I say “my eyes,” I am referring to human eyes. It was as if I had walked in on two lovers in a darkened room, their eyes looking cruelly at me, judging me for my indiscretion. Yet as soon as I had barged into the room, we all became frozen in time. Together.
I was running late for work this morning. Speeding up the hill towards the main road, I could see hoarfrost on the blades of grass and small beads of water reflecting the sunlight back to my eyes. As I rounded the last corner, bound for highway 89, something caught my eye on the stretch of road just ahead of me.
Something was looking at me. iIt felt more like two yellow eyes were looking deep into me, almost through me.
They were the eyes of a raptor. Black, large, dilated pupils surrounded by bright yellow.
An Accipiter. Was it a Cooper’s Hawk, too big to be a Sharp-shinned, sitting atop a still body.
When I look at birds, I often only have a few split seconds to make an identification of what I’m seeing. So I take in as much as I can. In just this piercing moment, I saw eyes looking back at me, reddish orange hatchmarks all over the chest, a small body sitting on something that appeared to be dead, a grizzled grey body lying on its side in the middle of the road.
Some kind of mammal. A rabbit. Had it been hit by a car? Information and questions were running through my head, one thought beginning before the last had a chance to finish.
Just as I was putting what I thought to be the finishing pieces on the puzzle, the bird turned, flapped its wings, and took off to the left. More markings appeared: white patch above a tail with gray and even darker gray bands on its tail. Large wings making heavy beats to lift itself off the ground: long, straight tail. And it was gone.
I sat there for a moment, wondering what to do. But I already knew what I would do. Save the rabbit. It wasn’t my business to begin with, but it was now. So I put my car in park, changde my mind, drove up and over to the right side of the road so I didn’t become the next victim. And stopped.
I looked out the window. The creature did not appear injured, but I wasn’t sure if it had been hit by a car or brought there by the hawk and was thus only stunned. It was so small and vulnerable. My maternal instincts kicked in, and I desperately wanted to fix it, though common sense and study of nature told me otherwise. All I could think of was a desire to go out, pick it up, and magically make it better.
Were the rabbit’s eyes blinking? Was it alive? I did a cursory check of my memory to try to remember if Accipiters to kill their prey first or scavenge something already dead. Accipiters were not scavengers that I could think of, but are we not all opportunists when the moment presents itself?
The rabbit moved a little bit. I opened my car door slightly; it began to move.
“You can do it,” I whispered.
“Get out of the street. You can do it, little one.”
It moved off the road and into the woods ever so tenuously.
Lucky break, I thought. But for whom?
I should not have been there. I cost a raptor it’s meal. And I knew what kind of energy it took to get one. But I saved a life, too. Or did I? I know all too well that humans, thinking they are helping, often unintentionally disrupt the delicate balance of life.
I continued on to work, late and wondering about the consequences of my inadvertent actions. Driving on, I thought about the music I was listening to. I had turned it off right after I began driving so I could dictate the details of the incident. “The dog days are over” by Florence and the Machine.
What a decadent creature I was. My car was cold but warming up. Coffee and breakfast were ready on the seat next to me. I didn’t have to think too much about my next meal. I could take out a credit card and experience nearly instantaneous gratification. My own dog days were a far cry from the hawk or hare.
I kept wondering about the bird I had seen. Was it a young raptor who saw the road as a good place to eat? A clear space where grass and sand would not get into raw flesh while it ate? It was clear the rabbit had not been hit. It looked young, but I am no biologist. At any rate, some force beyond my understanding has brought us three beings together in this brief moment. I was the only one with the luxury to wonder.