Everything flows, nothing abides. Heraclitus said it all for a trio of baby New York hawks in their nest on the twelfth floor of NYU’s Bobst Library, just outside the president’s office. Wise words also for our band of hawk enthusiasts who’ve gathered around our computers for the past six weeks, playing hookey from work and other nuisances, observing parents Bobbie and Rosie and their second brood. All of us were aware that the pleasures of home and infancy were about to end for these fascinating creatures.
Sure enough, Kiku, the oldest, fledged Friday morning — lifted her wings, flew from the nest and landed on a ledge a few stories below. Adventures followed. Poor Kiku took off again, landing, confused, on a busy street in the Village, then on top of a police car, attracting a crowd of local paparazzi. She was protected by patient Bruce Yolton, the videographer on the ground, who kept the crowd away from her while streaming his live feed of the event to over two hundred followers. He kept explaining that she was like a kid who’d left the nursery, a bit lost and disoriented, but she’d figure out what to do. After many anxious moments (including her tenuous grip on scaffolding and a visit to a UPS truck), Kiku found her way to a higher ledge and safety. A city hawk, she understands buildings, but has yet to learn about trees or to grasp the dangers of downtown traffic. One of our more knowledgeable members has reassured us that her parents are watching, that they’re giving her space to find her own way in her new abode, that after this series of adventures, she will never return to the nest again.
Life’s like that! While very young, Kiku (now fifty days old) was the object of much good-natured ribbing in the chat room for her voracious eating habits (she once snatched a live rat from her mom and swallowed it whole), and for picking on Judson, the baby of the group. Yet alone on her ledge after her first solo flight, she seemed distinct in her solitary beauty. She’d become a mystery feathered in awe, an intelligent and graceful creature who, by summer’s end, will pass out of our lives — along with her two soon-to-fledge siblings Archie and Judson.
The chat room doesn’t go on forever, either. Many of us have acknowledged that the kindly company we keep online has touched us as much as the beauty of the hawks. As the weeks have passed, there’s been a generous spirit, an affectionate cheering on of the little raptors (who could hardly be conscious of our presence), and it’s this that has often touched my heart — never more than today, as the first of our “babies” leave home with the love of hundreds of online friends.
Yes, our imaginative chatter is often sheer projection. We put words into the mouths of birds and enrich our own vocabulary with silly puns (“Starbeaks” is one of my favourites). Yet our chat also heralds a shift of consciousness, one aided by the Internet and its power to draw us — and the natural world — together. Our passion for hawks can’t be explained away. Some things in life are too mysterious to explain, and life is full of simple wonders. It happened that I stumbled upon the chat room in frustration, stuck visiting the New York Times website because they’d stopped sending me email headlines. That’s how I found last year’s hatchlings, Boo and Scout. I’d never watched birds before and I was smitten. Such is the ordinary gift of grace.
When I first saw Kiku outside the nest, I understood that she now belonged to the mystery of her own life and not to our wishes for her, however benign. When someone mentioned that she’d left home, falconer John Blakeman replied that her home was now the entire park. This is literally true, but as a metaphor, it grasps the truth that we humans and raptors are creatures of a larger and more mysterious reality than our solitary selves. We live by connection. We online viewers have woven a nest that mirrors the nest we’ve been observing. Like the hawks’ nest, ours will soon become dormant until next season. Yet in this simple metaphor, we are connected to each other and to the hawks, and it is in this bond that we abide.
These fledge days are transcendent, both a wild ride and a beautiful rite of passage for us all.
Good flying and godspeed, Kiku, Archie, and Judson.
View the fledge videos at http://new.livestream.com/urbanhawks/wspfledgeday2013/videos/20226930
I will be spreading my own wings next Tuesday for a “fledgling” trip to China. Back in two weeks!