Essay: A startling scene on an ordinary walk

 Illustration of a hawf fighting crows

Talons outstretched, the hawk plunged, aiming for a crow flying nearby. After slamming into it, the hawk spun away, while the crow wobbled and dropped. But regaining its equilibrium, the crow caught a current, and then, just when its wings began to flap, the hawk attacked again, dashing the crow to the ground, pinning it under its beak and claws.

I stared at the unfolding scene—startled. My usual walk had been transformed into a battleground. The besieged bird struggled, refusing to surrender. Suddenly, cawing filled the air, and a dozen crows descended from the sky and flung themselves at the hawk. They worked as one, pecking and flapping their wings, until the hawk gave up and soared away.

The crows, victorious, flew into tall pines lining the road. Scattering high among the branches, their bodies transformed into hazy smudges against spring’s muted browns and greens.

The episode ended as quickly as it had begun, though I remained bathed in awe after having this ringside seat to nature’s theater. Gradually, my surroundings came back into focus—an unblemished blue sky, the drip of melting snow.

Several months later, as winter gathered around me, crows flocked to rooftops or pecked in the snow at buried treats. A solitary crow perched on a fencepost, laced in swirls of frost. Aside from feathers ruffling around its neck, the bird rested in complete stillness, so motionless it could have been a statue. “This is my territory,” it seemed to say as it glided away, its departure layered in grace.

“There is a way of beholding nature that is itself a form of prayer,” wrote author and naturalist Diane Ackerman. As the crow vanished from sight, its flight enveloped me in an endless blessing.

When not reading or writing, Erin Fanning can be found skiing, biking, hiking, or kayaking in Idaho’s mountains or Michigan’s northern woods.

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