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A few years before I firmly planted myself in East Tennessee, I made a three-day trek, most of it along Interstate 40, to live in Arizona.
It was a grueling trip, not only because of the mileage and move involved, but because of the mix of emotions tied to any cross-country departure.
Except for the excitement of seeing antelope for the first time and listening to the most boring audio book that must have ever been recorded, I remember few details about that late-winter journey.
But I do remember this: it was about this time of year and seemingly every mile or so I saw a red-tailed hawk watching from a tree or a power line. I know they weren’t there for me, but this turnout of highway sentinels — and the consistency of them, mile after mile — made me feel special at a time I needed to feel special.
It was, perhaps, something like what a president might feel when the streets are lined with people hoping to catch a glimpse of him.
Here’s another, later hawk moment: I was driving through the Sonora Desert in southern Arizona — the land of saguaro cactus. Saguaro are those classic, multi-armed cactus that often look like people pointing directions.
It was a long drive through a desolate area, and I pulled off to stretch my legs in the hot summer sun. I heard a raspy scream and looked up to see a red-tailed hawk wheeling close overhead.
Hawks usually avoid people, so I was puzzled by this close encounter. All became clear a few minutes later when I came upon a saguaro with a large nest — the hawk’s nest.
I apologized out loud and then quietly backed away.
Creatures in the desert have a difficult enough time surviving, and this bird needed no added stress from me.
Last hawk story while I have these birds on my mind: Some friends I’d been nagging for years had finally relented and come out with me to Max Patch, a mountain bald near Hot Springs, N.C.
We had paddled a good stretch of the French Broad River, camped near the banks of the same tributary and treated ourselves to fine food and some time in the Hot Springs mineral water before ascending the mountain.
It was a warm, sunny September Sunday afternoon.
Walking with us as we climbed to the top was ornithologist Melinda Welton from Nashville.
We were well above the tree-line when Melinda pointed her binoculars to the sky.
Hawks, one after a nother, seemed to be lining up overhead on unseen air currents, and then suddenly shooting over the mountain.
Melinda explained that it was migration season, and the hawks, which she could identify from their shapes or markings, were simply taking advantage of the currents to make the trip a little easier.
I thought of those currents as being much like the moving sidewalks at many airports.
I’ve been hearing hawks back in my neighborhood, and I welcome them — although I wish they’d steer clear of the birds at my feeder.
But nature is a survival-of-the-fittest place, and often, hawks are among the fittest.
It makes me feel a little better about my own place on the food chain.