The Hawk and the Snake
The red tail hawk startled me as it flew in low out of a stand of leafless oaks on my left, passing just a few feet in front of me and above my head; so close, I could see the gradations of white, gray, and ocher in its tail-feathers; so close, I ducked. It was an early spring afternoon in 2007 and I was out for a stroll in Boston’s Franklin Park, down a wide gully between two patches of woods. The hawk descended as if gliding down an invisible ramp and landed at the crest of a slope covered with dead, orange leaves on the opposite side of the trail. On the ground, it spread wide its wings clapped them together and, hopped about erratically. Something else was moving at its feet. As I got closer a thin, black garter snake reared up. It struck at the hawk, dropped into the cover of the leaves and slid down the slope. The hawk followed the snake clapping and hopping, ungainly: a fat man on a pogo stick.
The two of them kept this up for a time—the snake would rear up to attack the hawk when the hawk tried to pounce, then dive back into the leaves and skitter down the slop. Meanwhile they got closer and closer to me, and the closer they got, the farther back I moved. I could tell the hawk was annoyed. Now and then it seemed to shoot an icy glance at me.
But they inched towards me and when they were only a few feet away, the hawk had had it with both of us. It looked at me one last time then took off, landing on the limb of a giant, dead oak. As it did, something—a terrified chipmunk, perhaps—screamed in the leaves on the slope on my left. I jumped. I noticed that the limb where the hawk now sat crossed directly over my path, in the direction I was headed. I thought of turning back for a moment. Having already spoiled its dinner, I did not want to continue hassling the creature. And it looked so regal there—chest thrust out, eyes sharp, as it surveyed the scene. In the end, I decided not to change course. As I passed under the hawk, it let out a blood-chilling cry, popped open its wings, dropped off the limb, flapped several times, banked left, glided over the trees, and out of sight–and I cringed feeling so utterly human..