then falcon'

I usually read the newspaper in the evening but this day I read it in the morning and by 7:30 AM I was so stirred up I needed to be armed with a hatchet and let loose in righteous battle against the nefarious forces that represent all that is evil, vile, and incompetent.

I was already fuming because a friend of mine is involved in a bitter divorce and the Department of Social Services is about to place his two children in a foster care system that is vastly inferior to the home of either parent.  This is after D.S.S. has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars evaluating this basically ordinary family every which way from Sunday, worsening conflict and alienation with their judgement and escalating their own power until now they are ready to step in, all in the name of civic virtue, and put the finishing touches on this family’s future.  All this while they refuse to respond to the legion of crack babies and truly frightening situations of violence and drug addiction and horror because these are circumstances in which the hectoring social service worker would find himself shot full of holes and stuffed into any convenient closet.  Making mountains out of molehills significantly reduces the risk of injury from a fall.

And then a pack of state Supreme Court judges in Rhode Island decided they had the authority to determine the nature of citizen’s intimate lives by ruling that anyone who engages in “unnatural practices” such as oral or anal sex is a criminal.  The fact that any couple that has been married for more than ten years and has engaged in a little experimentation in the privacy of their own bedroom is now subject to arrest and imprisonment puts the impact of law precisely where we don’t want it and engenders further contempt for a judicial system that once again is trying to nail a housefly with an anti-tank weapon.  The fly usually escapes through the resultant hole in the wall and taxpayers have to fund a new house.

And then it was reported that stranger murders have for the first time eclipsed homicides commited by acquaintances or family members, meaning that in addition to worrying about how those who know you feel about you, you now must worry about everyone else as well.  As the fragmentation of the family in the interests of individual rights and freedoms produces more and more male persons (not men) who grow into chronological adulthood bereft of any sense of connectedness to others we send our children into a world in which they await their inevitable encounter with the Bad Guy who will put a bullet in their brain for target practice and then go have a swell lunch with his friends.  When the police finally ask him about the murder, which research shows they will never do in more than 90% of such cases, the Bad Guy’s life will probably be so full of exciting events that he will have to struggle even to remember it.

So when I threw my kayak on my car and struck out into a local bay my strokes were vigorous and deep. I propelled myself diagonally across the bay and began circling an island behind the strand that buffers the bay from the ocean and soon I found myself in a wide salt water river that was deserted save for a small sailboat struggling to beat through before the waning tide left him high and dry.  He was using his anchor line to tow himself along and with the assistance of this creative technique he was soon free and cruising into the open bay.

I continued around against the sweeping current of the shallows until I came upon an opening to the north that promised to shorten my trip by half.  I paddled into the opening and heard the cries of a bird and then saw a huge falcon nested in a stand on the embankment.  As I came closer the falcon lifted from its nest displaying a five-foot wingspan and rose about one hundred feet in the air and began circling above me.  As each one of his (more probably, her) circles approached a point directly vertically above me my heart beat faster and I involuntarily found myself raising my paddle toward the sky in a threatening and protective gesture and I realized that in his (or her) falcon mind we were already engaged in a mano-a-mano for which he (or she) was much better prepared than I.  Since the grief I might experience as a result of that huge bird swooping down on me considerably outweighed any satisfaction I might derive from vanquishing the falcon or saving ten minutes on my trip I began very briskly back-paddling out of the opening and soon the bird was once again settled comfortably on its nest.

In those few moments, however, I came to understand what it means to be a field mouse or a rabbit or a mole that has been spotted by the predator and then the vertebrae stiffen and the head swivells back and forth and the wide and complicated world breaks down to a simple frantic search for cover that becomes more and more frantic with every passing millisecond until finally the talons sink into flesh and the release of death is greeted with a strange sense of relief.

And then I realized that the injustice and waste and arrogance of the system and the terrible randomeness of violence is marvelously clarified by a few seconds as a field mouse.  We ourselves are arrogant enough to believe that the movements of the system must contain a coherence and rationality beyond the exigencies of momentary feeding and then our spirit of righteousness rises like a great bird from its nest and the great bird spots and eats the field mouse and to our surprise and dismay our efforts at final virtuous resolution only contribute another phase to the endless cycle of life and death and our arrogant belief that our moral behavior will transcend the sphere of its own birth settles to earth like a mere whisp of pollen surrendered by the afternoon breeze.  From the perspective of prey, the judgement of how it is matters much less than the realization that it is.

Thus enlightened by chance I paddled slowly homeward, scanning now the orange glow of the sunset and enjoying to the full the few moments I am spared from the falcon’s gaze.