I thought they were squirrels at first, fussing amongst themselves as squirrels do.
It was early November and I was deep into a sketch––the forest was an absolute cathedral of color this fall––and I hardly paid the chatter any mind.
Until I saw the wings. Oh, they’re hawks! My curiosity was piqued.
It was a pair of small hawks––that much I could discern––and they were upset, squawking as they flapped about in the understory.
But then they were gone, and I was back to my sketch, wondering what sort of hawk they were, and what might have roused them to such a commotion on an early November afternoon.
I took my sketch back to the studio, and started this last Autumnal scene. I was particularly enamored with the sourwood, whose bright red color was at turns pink, melon, and scarlet. But in the end, it was just a scene, and I felt something was missing.
I had completely forgotten about the hawks.
I even thought––should I put a stag in here? or a bear?––even though I know from experience that inserting a wild animal into a scene does not automatically render that scene better. I actually mused on the whole stag thing for a good while before I even remembered what I had experienced in the forest.
And then I felt rather foolish.
But I set to work. What kind of hawks were they? A quick dip into the amazing website of Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology gave me two possibilities: Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s. One need only listen to the calls of each to figure out that a Cooper’s hawk sounds a lot like a squirrel, while a Sharp-shinned, with its high, clear tones, does not. (Also, for what it’s worth, they look remarkably alike).
But there was a deeper question rippling under the surface. How could it be that I was nearly finished with this piece before I realized that something was missing, and even then I did not recall what the forest had given me? How could I be so obtuse? And even worse, I had written in my journal only days before: What is the image here, in this forest, that describes the inner world of this community?
Embarrassed, I asked what energy the hawks carried, and drew the Tower card from my Tarot deck: ego shattered by nature writes the author of this deck*. I dreamt of a hat that didn’t fit anymore, and of a bike that fit so poorly that I wasted lots of physical energy trying to pedal up a hill.
I invited those hawks into my Autumnal scene, and they arrived, because of course they were already there. And they had things to do. Have a small feast of my journal, for one. And they had things to say to me in the Otherworld of art, where memory can shift and the inner worlds of birds and forest and human might intertwine.
This did not happen. This most certainly did happen. Because we are in the Otherworld, just as surely as we are not.
- *The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s amazing site: allaboutbirds.org
* Tarot deck: Botanica by Kevin Jay Stanton