(HOST) In Vermont, the line between the domestic world and the wild one is sometimes pretty thin. Recently, commentator Ted Levin witnessed an event that nearly erased the line altogether.
(LEVIN) There is something so sweet about serendipity, the chance encounter or event that arises out of the blue, as if someone or something made all the arrangements just for our personal amusement (or benefit). Several years ago, I got a phone call from a bank teller, who worked in White River Junction and lived in Canaan, New Hampshire. Her daughter had acquired a pair of insulated gloves that had my son Casey’s name and phone number written on the garment tag. The gloves, which had been lost six years before, were returned, and, though too small for Casey, were a perfect fit for his brother Jordan.
On a recent Saturday morning I had another serendipitous experience. Not a reuniting with an article of long lost clothing, but an encounter with a large, wild bird, not the sort I’d expect to have in my garage.
I was standing in a garbage pail, stomping down the trash – Saturday is recycling day in Thetford – when I heard the distress cries of our barred rock hen. The bird ran toward me up the driveway, feather duster tail askew, screaming like a banshee. Not far behind her, an adult female goshawk, blue-gray and single-minded, wings out straight, glided just above the ground, eyes fixed on the hen.
The hawk chased the chicken up the driveway and into the garage. The hen scrambled past me, wobbling from side to side in a cartoonish way as though she ran across a trampoline. Panicked, she dove into the coils of a garden hose, which lay on the ground behind me.
The goshawk followed the hen into the garage, but when she saw me standing there, she banked at the rim of the pail, executing an exquisite aerial pirouette, and flew back out again.
I have often watched hawks from above, migrate past the North Lookout at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in the wilds of Pennsylvania. But now I was perched in a trash can in my garage, not on a slab of granite. And this hawk was a foot away from me, not soaring above a wooded valley.
The goshawk flew to a driveway maple and stayed for a few minutes. Then, she spiraled up into the sunlight and disappeared over the next ridge.
For several minutes, the only things that stirred in the front yard were the breeze and my thoughts. Even the querulous jays had fallen silent. The entire event was over in five seconds, but for the rest of the day I replayed the scene over and over in my mind, carefully studying each frame of memory until the hen and the hawk began to merge into myth.
Eventually, birds returned to the feeders and the barred rock left the garage. The hen has become a family celebrity – she had already survived a pair of red foxes that had picked off all seven of her siblings.
Now, when I recall that morning – I recall the landscape of the garage, mingled with the terror, the surprise, and the awe of the principal protagonists, all bundled into a single fleeting event, as transparent as mist.
Ted Levin is a writer and photographer and winner of the 2004 Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing.