City Hawks

I keep seeing hawks here in North Dallas.

I don’t remember ever seeing them before about six months ago. But, since then, I’ve seen maybe four or five. Most of them have been soaring high above Kiowa Creek Park, winding up and down our neighborhood tributary of White Rock Creek. They tower above the creek beds, looking for mice I suppose…or rats…or whatever else they might see down there.

When I lived in Mason for a year, I used go to Enchanted Rock quite a lot and watch the hawks circling the high hill there. I used to watch them, riding the breezes back and forth, swooping across that pink-rocked dome, looking for prey…enjoying the ride on the wind. And I remember my sister –who once upon was a paid “raptor interpreter” at a nature museum– telling me how great a hawk’s eyesight is. They can see those tiny mice from far up in the sky. I’ve never seen them dive in on their “prey” on our little suburban creekbed. But they swoop back and forth with the same motion, the same singleness of purpose and intention, that those hawks on Enchanted Rock always had…

Every time I’ve seen one of these incredible birds these past few months, I have to stop what I’m doing (I literally pull over the car, or stop my walk) just to stand and watch for a minute.

And I wonder, what is it that they see? What do they think of all the cookie cutter houses –tricycles in the driveways, satellite dishes on the roofs? What do they think of us? Do they even notice us? Do we even make an real difference to them?

Or does all that fall away into a blur of peripheral vision? Do they instead see the land as it used to be….a creek surrounded by sloping meadows?

The first time I saw one of these hawks, I suddenly started humming John Gorka’s “The Flying Red Horse,” which happens to be my favorite Gorka song. It’s about a Mobil Oil Pegasus that one day decides to lift off from the top of the gas station and break free. It’s a beautiful song about her search for freedom.

The last lyrics of the song fit the flight of those hawks, wandering through our suburban landscape:

They think they can tame you, name you and frame you
Aim you where you don’t belong
They know where you’ve been but not where you’re going
And that is the source of the songs
(From “The Flying Red Horse,” by John Gorka)

And so, I wonder, what’s it like being a city hawk?

In my imagination, they are above it all. The breezes must surely feel the same wherever you are. The ride is the same whether they’re above some pink-domed-rock or a tiny sliver of green, snaking through a concrete jungle. And I like to imagine that, up on those winds, it makes no difference to the hawk one way or the other.

From up there, the freedom’s all the same.

I’m thinking about this today, because just a few days back I went to the dermatologist. There was something strange and black on my back. Found it on a Monday. And by Tuesday morning I was in to see the doctor. I had no idea how long it had been there, and it looked that scary to me. I’ve known two friends of the family who have died of a melanoma on their back that they never saw coming. And this little “spot” looked just like the pictures I’ve seen on the internet of the spots you never want to see in the mirror.

So, I’m waiting for the doctor to come in, and I’m thinking again about being in a doctor’s office for medical tests. And I’m remembering again about that strange moment when you’re still waiting and you don’t know what the doctor will say. (The very dynamic that inspired “One More Day“) Only this time, I was sure it was much worse, and that the doctor was about to give me some very bad news.

When all of the sudden, I look out of the fifth floor window, and there perched high up on the building across the parking lot is a hawk. He’s sitting on an emergency light pole that arcs out over the tenth floor of the adjacent building. And he looks magnificent.

And I wonder, as before, what does he see as he looks out? Does he imagine he’s at the top of an escarpment, looking out at the valley below? Is this maze of hospital buildings a canyon wall to him? How does he see this city around him? Or, do the glass-covered buildings just reflect back more sky to him?

Then, I notice that he’s surrounded by smaller birds. Sparrows, it looks like. And they’re dive-bombing him in a vicious way. There are about three or four of them, and they’re turning tight, two-foot circles above him, and swooping in….looking for all the world as if they’re actually pecking at him. (Although it’s far enough away that I can’t really tell).

Amazingly, he seems completely unfazed. He just sits there, looking out over the mass of parking lots, streets, strip malls, and tiny patches of green. I keep waiting for him to take flight, just to get away from their incessant hounding. But he stay’s put, surveying the land far below.

It’s almost like he doesn’t even notice that they’re there.

So I took it as a sign…a sign I needed to pay attention to right at that moment….

I imagined that those sparrows were like the worries of my life. Even the worry about a possible skin cancer. And I remembered that life is full of all sorts of worry-birds, dive-bombing you with the “urgent terror of the day.”

…the nightly news and the way they only report the things that scare us…
…friends and family filled with anxiety….
…real and imagined threats in the city…
…real and imagined world-threats (what alert level are we at now, anyway?)

And it’s easy to get distracted by it all, and give into fear.

But there is a real peace, there is real strength, from taking the long view. There’s a peace in not allowing your vision to be captured by the petty annoyances around you. Or, even when something is a real fear –like a trip to the doctor– there’s still a strength in trusting that, no matter what comes of it, they’ll always be some part of you that will still be OK…still be able to look beyond the horizons. And maybe, if we can overcome our fears, we can even see the world as more than just parking lots, streets, strip malls, and tiny patches of green.

So, I stood there looking out the window at this incredible bird, and how unfazed he was by the agitation around him. And it gave me peace.

Eventually, the smaller birds seemed to give up. And for a long time, the hawk still just sat there. And when he was good and ready –when it was his time to fly– he took off and opened up that beautiful big span of his. He flew right over the building where I stood watching. I gasped.

It was one more lesson: It’s not to say we won’t ever fly. But when we do, let us fly on our terms, not because of fears or worries, or because of the pressures of the world.

It’s been several days since that appointment.
The doctor has given me an “all clear” on the spot on my back.
All is well.

And I am grateful for the message of a city hawk.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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