A modern sailplane can glide more efficiently than any raptor, but that’s our only advantage. All birds’ instincts are essentially flawless, and we can assume that a circling hawk marks the best lift around. Seemingly never intimidated, they tolerate us in their airspace, making it our privilege to soar with them as with each other. Except they always out-fly us of course, being far more maneuverable and shameless about using auxiliary power whenever it suits their purpose.
Possibility of collision with most birds would be near zero even if we tried to hit them, because they’re too quick for our moderate speeds and slower response. Like everything else in the sky however, it can happen, so eventually it will. In countless hours of soaring with birds, my one strike seemed itself a matter of heartrending kismet, some karmic due to be fulfilled whether we chose to participate or not. We were ridge soaring forth and back on a small hill, occasionally passing the doomed red-tail from ahead or behind, either direction. It glanced over each time, but otherwise ignored us like always. Then an eagle joined in and we had three splendid shows for the price of none.
Soon it developed that we were overtaking them both at once, so to preclude any conflict I pitched over and swerved between them and the ridge. As we rolled level, the hawk dove crazily from behind on our left to ahead on our right – and got smacked by the wing full on! I happened to be looking two o’clock, at the nearest ground ahead, and witnessed the impact. Broken in half and held together by its skin, the carcass spun straight down like a maple seed.
While we were still catching our breath the eagle dove to that spot, collected its lunch, and perched in a treetop to eat. Afterward it came back up to soar with us again, all well in the world.
I’ll always wonder what impelled the hawk to do something so unpredictable and self-destructive. Could it have been fleeing an attack? Eagles don’t typically hunt hawks, with so much other game that’s easier to acquire, but nearly everyone appreciates a free meal.
In any case, what could we do but solemnly exult in being part of a timeless natural process? Back on earth, I touched the finite nicks from broken bones in our leading edge, as scars on my own astral body, caressing them with the fleshy claw of fingertips to absorb what I could of a fallen fellow avian’s spirit and magic. Nothing else to due.