One early morning twenty five years ago, in a cold light rain, I stopped when I saw a hawk just ten yards from the path, on the grass near the base of a tree. Its feathers were brown with white speckles, and it stood on thick white-feathered legs. Its claws were curved deep into the body of a grey squirrel. With rapid motions, the hawk thrust its razor sharp beak into the squirrel's heart, and pulled out strings of bright scarlet tissue. Every now and again it paused, stood motionless, then in precise motions it looked to its right, left, then straight at me. For fifteen or twenty minutes I stood watching the bird eat as the rain soaked my jacket and the cold numbed my hands and feet.
Finally the hawk extended and flapped its massive brown wings and rose up about five feet into the air. Then —to my astonishment—it flew directly toward me, as if he meant to attack. I put my hand out defensively, but then he suddenly veered sharply and in a wide arc flew upward, then gently settled on a horizontal branch of a nearby tree.
That encounter with the hawk made a profound impression on me. I'd studied Native American Religions in college, and I knew ancient peoples believed such visions always have great personal significance.
A few weeks later I described this rather unnerving event to a marriage counselor. After a few moments of thought she asked me which of the two animals I most identified with. At first I felt I was more like the squirrel, because after all my own heart had been ripped out by a woman I deeply loved. But then I was not at all comfortable with the notion of being a helpless victim. Better to eat than be eaten, no? Also, Native Americans knew that by following the path of the hawk, you will be led on the right path.
That was twenty five years ago. And now? Well, I’m starting to believe that even when you’re on the right path you can still get your heart ripped out. Nothing personal, of course. It’s just the way it is.