April 24, 1998


I live in a dangerous neighborhood. This country town by the sea is not your normal high crime area, but we have our share of trouble. Our problems never make it onto the police blotter, but we know what is happening. We do not have drive-by shootings - we have fly-by’s.

I was first introduced to this problem when I was living in a neighboring community. One morning I was standing in my kitchen when I heard a large thwump at the front of the house. I ran to the window and saw the bird feeder swinging wildly on the garage. A blue jay was lying in the middle of the driveway, dwarfed by a marsh hawk which was pecking it to death. After a few minutes, the blue jay was carried off by the hawk. I stood stunned in silence. For the first time I knew, yes, violence and death were part of suburbia.

On a recent warm spring evening my wife and I and our small dog, Kachina, went for a walk down our street to the marsh and the river. On the way we passed an open field with an unusual sight: a skunk rooting in the earth. I had only seen skunks at night in my headlights so this daytime viewing was special. He was so cute as he dug and dug, flopping his tail around. He had not heard that skunks are supposed to have one white stripe down the back. Instead, his back was all black and the broad white stripes ran down both of his sides. I felt honored to see him.

We continued on our walk and eventually turned around and retraced our steps. My wife pointed out the group of birds up ahead who seemed to be suspended in the air. They were large birds and they were hovering by flying into the breeze at just the right angle. Their suspended flight was majestic. They would hold their places for a minute or so and then they would break and float together in large circles.

We are not good bird identifiers, and we guessed that they were hawks. But we had never seen hawks flying in a group like that before. I hurried up the road mesmerized by their flight. I hoped that they would stay so that we could watch them up close.

Half way up the street it hit me. The hawks were not going anywhere. They were there for a reason. They were there for the skunk.

Sure enough, as we reached the skunk in his field, the hawks were flying low, right above us. I imagined out loud that they were sizing up the skunk and voting on who would do the dirty work and go in first. My wife was convinced that one of the hawks had his eye on our little dog, who was about the same size as the skunk. So she picked up the little dog and we hurried home.

I do not know what ensued back there at the field. I can only imagine. Maybe nothing happened. Maybe cooler heads prevailed.

So we have six hawks and a skunk. Is that an omen? Do you believe in omens? Maybe I should start believing in omens or at least suspend my disbelief for awhile. What would this mean? What do hawks and skunks mean in mythology? Is this like dream work?

I have no answers here, but I do have a lot of questions. The day after this sighting my life took a sharp turn - a zig, if you will. I know that the skunk, the hawks and I are connected just by being here. But we are unable to get together for coffee to sort this whole thing out. So my questions will persist. And I will zig on.

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