Hawk Eyes, Coyote Yips, Puma prowls

I was riding my purple, hard-tail mountain bike — a Nishiki, my first mountain bike and the only one of three that ever got ridden much — down a narrow trail. It was a fun trail, six miles of single track up a nondescript little chaparral canyon. I wouldn’t have been on any bike if I hadn’t hyper-extended my knee making hiking completely out of the question for 3 months. No insurance = no surgery. I was treated “conservatively” (what were they conserving? it was NOT my long term mobility) with a brace and semi-weekly exams and (on my own) acupuncture. And I got a bike. Mikey, one of the “Boys on Bikes” had gone with me to pick it out. Bikes were their lives so when I went to buy one it only made sense to take one of them along. Mikey demanded a red bike for me. The clerk said there were no red bikes. Mikey expressed his astonishment, “But red is Martha’s favorite color!” Purple ran a close second.

But I loved that mountain bike, and riding that trail reminded me of downhill skiing and of flight. One afternoon I was starting the return, the down hill slope — not a fast downhill at a steep angle, but a pretty nearly perfect consistent down hill run for four miles. A red tail hawk flew above me and I watched her flight instead of watching the trail. Naturally, I landed in a creosote bush. “Don’t watch ME. Watch LIKE me,” said the hawk. She was right. It is not safe to ride a bike on a trail like that without the eyes of a hawk.

I thanked her for the lesson and rode on as she soared above. Chances were good that I’d scare something out of the bushes as I headed down to my truck.

Then I thought: It’s not so much WHAT the other animals have as it is what they DO with it. I could hurt myself if I didn’t watch where I was going. I identified closely with those hawks for several years. I hiked with them soaring around me. I let them teach me what I was able to learn. I watched them train the young hawks to evade ravens and other air-borne enemies. Mom and dad and the young hawk above me, one of the parents dives for the young hawk. The young hawk takes evasive action soon enough or doesn’t. It’s that simple. “It’s life or death, kid.” If not? He’s attacked. If he does? He’s not — and more. The other parent flies below him and lifts its wings, making a small lift for the young bird. “Good work, kid!” Another dive, another feint, another evasion, another peck, another lift until the little hawk has learned how to stay safe in a world far more three dimensional than ours.

“That’s the best way to teach,” I said to the world at large, to myself, to the hawk. “Because it IS life or death.”
“What else WOULD it be?”

Not every animal is completely serious all the time. Coyotes aren’t. One afternoon — and you know the story? Coyotes come out at night? No, actually, they’re around all the time. One very warm chaparral afternoon, on a barren ugly hillside, blending in almost perfectly, sat a coyote. He was up the hill from the trail I was on, about 50 feet away. “Hi,” I said, looking up at him. “Yip,” he said, looking down at me, then “Yippp yip yip HOOOOO.” I answered. He answered. I answered, He answered. We carried on this conversation for about 10 minutes and it probably could have gone on a lot longer, but my dogs thought I had lost my mind. While I understand that these are wild animals and dangerous etc. etc. I hiked around them so much in the chaparral hills and the mountains where I live now, that I think they thought I was just part of their world. Hiking one afternoon (I always hiked about the same time every day so the animals would not notice me as much and I would become part of their routine world) I found myself followed by a coyote who seemed to think he was one of my dogs. “Dude,” I said, “you can’t hike with me. It is really a little freaky. Go on, now,” and he did. He left. But one afternoon — after I put my old dog Lupo to sleep after he sustained a couple rattlesnake bites from a snake in my yard — I went up to the mountains to put his tag on a fence post where I put the tags of all my dogs after they die. I was about 20 feet from the post when I noticed a young female coyote walking a few feet to my left along side me. I looked down at the collar where Lupo’s tag was. The brand was “Coyote.” I shivered. When I removed the tag, the coyote ran in front of me, giving me one look, and headed off across the hills. I felt she took the immortal spirit of my beautiful dog with her.

Wandering in wild places has made me a “mutant” in many senses. I know there is more to who I am than “just” a human being. I have attributes of many other animals, attributes that only need to be taught to me by the other animals, lessons I can learn by watching and by living in their world — which is my world, too. It’s interesting to me that during my hawk phase, a term I used all the time was “seeing.” I felt blind. I felt that certain facts, truth, had been hidden from my view. In fact, a lot had been hidden from me. I knew this intuitively; some major elements of my life did not make sense logically. I wasn’t able to look at them straight on because I didn’t have the information I needed; I couldn’t SEE.

Just as the bushes from which my dogs flushed squirrels and rabbits hid prey from the hawks, my mother’s lies and secrecy about her true self hid from me information I needed if I were going to make sense of my life. That my being in the hawk’s world actually helped them see (food) was interesting. From them I learned I needed help seeing. I needed the help of others who knew more and could see more than I could.

My coyote days were a period of friendships and a kind of pack identity, even for me. In those days I had lots of (younger) friends with whom I hiked and hung out. Loyalty and a sense of humor are necessary traits for belonging to a group. The deterioration of my body as a result of years of hard hiking and injury would put me into a different world, one more solitary one.

When I saw the mountain lion — the culmination of years of hiking and becoming part of a landscape — I knew that a part of my life had come to a close. The animal I have “been” most recently is human friend to a horse. That’s another story.


9 thoughts on “Hawk Eyes, Coyote Yips, Puma prowls

    • Are these my totems? I thought they were just random other guys I ran into who had something to say and offered me a kind of cross-animal friendship based on? I know what the hawk got from me; that was clear. My dogs chased rabbits and squirrels out from under bushes. The hawks got so they were waiting on a rock for me to drive up at 1:30 pm on a winter day. That was cool. Coyotes are pretty random. I’ve also intersected a couple of times the early morning trail of a momma bobcat. But the puma… that was the most intense because I wanted it so much, but already then hip arthritis was causing me some serious pain. I felt like “it” (God? the cosmos? the animals?) knew I’d be leaving.

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