Timing is everything.
On Wednesday I went running. It was a hot day, not humid, not a cloud in the sky. Perfect. The trail was fairly empty, still lush and green and mostly covered in dappled shade. As I approached my second mile, I noticed a man on a bicycle coming towards me, still quite a distance away. At the same time, I saw a flash just in front of him, a bird’s wing as it cut across the path. At first I thought it was a robin, and then, no, too big. A crow?
Only it didn’t cut across, it turned, away from him, towards me. And in an instant. as it passed through a patch of sunlight, I saw that it was actually a hawk. My bird. And it was moving straight down the path, waist high, painting flight with broad strokes of its wings. It did not waiver, or veer, or act like it was lost. It kept on, headed right in my direction, glinting gold as it passed through patches of sunshine.
I kept running, although I was mesmerized. And it kept coming, straight for me. And then, when it was about fifteen feet away, it rose up over my head and continued on down the path. I couldn’t quite have reached out and touched it, but if my arms were five feet longer, I think I could have.
And here’s the thing: I had planned to go running much earlier that day, hours earlier, in fact. But things came up, I pushed my run back, minutes went by, then hours. And in the end, it all came down to seconds. Three seconds later, and I would have missed a sight that I will never forget.
A sight that is imprinted in my mind like the memory I have of my last dog, running towards me around the corner of our house, cantering like a horse, shiny black in tall green grass. He was happy in that moment, a big doggie smile on his face. His joy was evident. Two days later he was gone, suddenly and unexpectedly, and I have always wondered if I sensed what was to come, because I almost felt my mind snap a picture, recording that moment, him, just then, just there, in that spot. Forever.
And then there is the encounter I had with a bear while camping once, she on one side of the campfire, me on the other, the three men I was with, city boys, in the water. (Yes, I told them, as they ran for it, that bears will go in the water.) But they stayed where they were, and I stayed where we had all been just seconds before, by the fire. She looked at me, trying to focus through the smoke and the flames, wagging her big head back and forth. Our eyes met and she held my gaze for one brief second, and then turned and walked away.
I can see it still, in my mind.
And now, this giant, graceful hawk, flying straight down a path towards me. Golden wings glinting on and off through sun, then shade, and sun again. The white spotted belly that I followed as he vaulted up over my head.
I’m pretty sure he plucked a feather from my soul just at that moment, when I looked up and saw him silhouetted in the sun.
Because after that, for the rest of my run,