Earlier this month, SJG and I watched migrating hawks in Duluth. With the lake in the distance and yellow gold trees in fall vestment below, we admired the birds floating past the overlook on columns of air known as thermals. Volunteers at the site let me hold, barefisted, a female sharp-shinned hawk. I stroked the back of her neck, leaning close to smell her. As the winds picked up, she squirmed in my hand, eager to be released to her journey south toward warmer climes. I opened my fist and, barely breathing, watched her dip toward the ground, spread her wings in wide embrace, and move skyward into the sun on large wingstrokes.
I told my sister about this hawk, and she pointed toward the first stanza of "The Windhover," a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
I caught this morning morning's minion, kingdom
of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn
Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air,
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend:
the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, -- the achieve of, the mastery
of the thing!