Monday, December 20, 2010

Wild Kingdom

Nature has been plentiful--and playful--down in The Run this fall. The ever-present squirrels have been quite vocal on our morning walk, scattering at Duncan's approach and then sitting high on their branches cursing at us as we pass below. The little gray and brown birds, quite ordinary in every way, have been abundant --and dangerous--as they erupt from their shelter in the shrubs as my passing Duncan pounces on them. The geese have reclaimed the golf course, where they move in one giant amoebic mass leaving little green tootsie roll prizes behind them after they pass. Even the hawks have been more active. Late last summer a young hawk moved in and has spent many mornings watching us from the top of the iron fence that divides the property and the golf course.

This morning it seemed we could hardly move through the profusion of wildlife that moved along the trail. Squirrels undulated through the grass and up the trunks of the trees, little birds glided through the air as thick as summer gnats and hopped among the naked tree branches, their song loud and unconducted. An owl perched at the top of the cottonwoods watching us and even a fast-moving rabbit made an appearance. It must have been like Christmas morning for Duncan, who couldn't decide which way to run, which creature most deserved his attention. It was warm and we were early and there was no rush so I lagged behind, content to watch him scamper back and forth, first to the trunk of one tree then back to the shrubs along the edge of the building. The sun had just come up over the line of the buildings, the cool air warmed with the light of the sun and all seemed right with the world.

And then a shadow fell over the sun. A squirrel, halfway up a nearby crab apple tree screamed and threw himself into the air toward the shrubs. Duncan's entire body tensed as I turned just in time to see the young hawk, much bigger than when last I'd seen him, dive from the roof where he'd been perched, and slice through the air. He came at me, raised a wing and effortlessly veered away as I ducked. Duncan jumped at it but it swerved again, circled the trunk of the tree, dropped just a few feet and grabbed the struggling squirrel in its talons. The hawk opened its wings and screeched, its grace suddenly gone with the weight of the squirming rodent. Its wings unfurled and it flapped loudly as it struggled to gain altitude. Duncan lunged again and snapped while the squirrel twisted and flopped, dragging the hawk down further until it had no choice but to drop its prey, correct its course--which, for the third time in twenty-fours hours happened to be directly at me--and fly away. I ducked low as it passed overhead, the sweep of its wings a breeze against my face. The squirrel was dazed but had nothing to fear. Duncan chased the bird and barked once as it passed over the treeline and vanished into the morning haze. No one messes with his squirrels but him.

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