City Nature, Nature's City

My Heart

I saw this morning, in rounding the entry to the office where I'm volunteering, two hawks and then a third. They were haggling in the branches of a fifty-year-old pepper tree overhanging the walkway, hopping lightly from branch to branch or nearly scrambling up the furred bark of the pepper tree. The three birds appeared and disappeared. Skee, Skee, Skee crying - something from the forest and not a suburban street - located one of them in the branches of a nearby sycamore.

These birds have been around for at least a week, chittering from the pepper tree or skimming under its branches to rest in a specimen Ficus benjamina in the city hall parking lot. I saw one of the hawks yesterday whetting its beak on the bark a few feet overhead.

From their size, I presume one is female (larger) and the other two are males (smaller). I don't know why there are three of them or if this is a season for mating or if nest mates hang together for a time after fledging. The nature of the these hawks is unknown to me. The little I've included here comes from a few minutes on the web.

I may not know their nature, but I know the hawks are in mine. They are not alone. The suburban street I've walked since I was a child is a concrete path cut from Nature, but from which Nature has never been absent.

Mourning doves, mocking birds, scrub jays, house sparrows, and finches have accompanied my walk for as long as I can remember, either in person or as a fugue of their calls.

Hummingbirds make their fierce Tzt, Tzt, Tzt - a sound so loud from so small a thing. Down the block, a woodpecker worked at the bark of a backyard elm for several days this spring. I'd never heard that before. Parakeets flock over the street.

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I don't know if these hawks mean to pass by or stay. I don't know what effect they will have on the local bird population (although I suspect the resident mockingbirds will give them trouble). The hawks will have their way, nonetheless.

As Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote : ". . . the achieve of; the mastery of the thing! Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here . . ."

That three hawks are here is a brute fact and a beauty over which I have no control.

We sometimes think that Nature has fallen back from our advance, a retreat from which there can be no return. A short walk will better inform us. This is nature's city, and these hawks have entered there in my wondering presence.

The image on this page was taken by Earle Church. It is used by permission.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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