The Goshawk

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3 minutes of reading

Here’s a story. A friend of mine lives deep in the forest near the Oregon coast. He keeps a mess of chickens, as he says, choosing his words carefully to reflect the reality of living with what he calls pissy testy chippy loopy bedraggled unpredictable creatures as vain and cocky as any county commissioner you could name.

In fact, he says, when I get particularly annoyed at them for one thing or another, I imagine them as tiny county commissioners stalking around in feathered jumpsuits, an image that cheers me right back up again, as does, occasionally, eating one of them, just to remind the others that the whole meal thing goes both ways. Most of the time I am just the lunk who delivers food to you, he says, but sometimes you are going to be food for me. They don’t like this line of talk and they curse at me in their language, but I am inured to abuse and don’t take it seriously.

To protect his chickens from weasels and minks and raccoons and foxes and coyotes he built a tall wire fence so sturdy and dense that no weasel could slip through it and no fox outwit it. I asked him about hawks and owls, and he said he figured owls and the big hawks didn’t take the chickens because there wasn’t enough room for approach and takeoff, what with the pen being sort of a tall narrow chute, and that the smaller raptors, the sharpshins and kestrels, were too spindly to hoist a chicken. So the raptors as a tribe never nailed his chickens, although he says he always thought there might be a real ambitious kestrel out there training for the big moment–they can hover and drop, you know, so if one of them really hit the weight room, you never know.

Then came the goshawk. A goshawk is a whopping large intent hawk who eats not only rabbits and grouse and mice and voles but also, where possible, owls and weasels and raccoons and foxes. The goshawk is a swift burly ravenous being with paring knives for fingers and a serious jones for meat. A really big gos in the right circumstances might make a run at a bobcat or a fawn or a beaver, said my friend. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear one of these days that a gos snagged a poodle or a bear cub. I wouldn’t be surprised at all. You see a gos crash into a thicket at high speed, and flap out carrying the world’s fattest rabbit, you arrive at maximal respect for the goshawk as someone who eats what he wants when he wants it.

Northern Goshawk

So one day I go out to chickens, he says, and there’s a goshawk sitting on top of a dead chicken, right in the middle of the pen. This was not something I had ever seen before and I was startled. I was also annoyed, so I said some rude things, but that gos just stood there staring at me. Didn’t budge an inch, and, believe you me, he or she was not afraid in the least. In fact I got the clear impression that what the gos was trying to impart to me was a message like: This is now my chicken, and I am going to hoist it out of here in a minute, and you are not going to be so foolish as to interfere with me, because that would be very foolish indeed.

You think maybe I am reading more into the situation than was actually there, said my friend, but I am here to tell you that the message was clear and inarguable. Another minute passed in silence as we stared at each other, and then I said aloud, How about you take this one and leave the others alone in the future, we’ll call it a woods tax, is that fair? The hawk stared at me for another minute and then just lifted up, carrying the chicken as easy as you carry a pencil. That was a few months ago and it’s interesting to me that he or she never came back for another chicken; or maybe he or she did come back and just sat on the fence thinking about taxes and poodles. Who knows? For all we know, we don’t know so much.

Photo Credits: for photo of Goshawk, Francesco Veronesi, Wiki Photos, Creative Commons.

  • Brian Doyle

    Brian Doyle is a dad, a dad, a dad, a husband, sonbrotherfriendcitizen, and finally the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon. He is the author of many books of essays and fiction, notably the sprawling Oregon novel Mink River.

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