The Sparrowhawk’s Lesson

It’s the the end of an unremarkable day. You’ve spent the last few hours in the open enjoying the sights and sounds of the natural world. Your thoughts are starting to drift towards the cold beer that’s sitting in the fridge at home. You turn a corner and there in front of you is something that stops you in your tracks. A Sparrowhawk mantling its prey. Or a Tawny Owl watching you from a dead branch almost within touching distance. A Fox, facing you on the path. Suddenly you are looking into the eyes of a wild animal and everything stops.

It doesn’t happen every time you go out. But when it does, if you pay attention, it can tell you why you are here.

The Sparrowhawk is fully engaged in the mundane task of killing. We can’t know what is going on behind those yellow eyes. We have no privileged access to the bird’s psychology. But there are things we do know. We know the bird isn’t worrying about its reputation, whether or not we admire him, whether he’s a good husband or lover or hunter, whether he should have turned left rather than right when he left the roost that morning, whether losing that starling to a blundering rabbit is something he’ll ever get over. Instead the bird is fully occupied with the urgent business of being. Like all wildlife the bird exists in a perpetual now. What matters for us is that the instant we exchange glances the encounter hauls us out of the narrative of our daily lives and into the crucible of this shared present.

It’s not the murderous act that gives the encounter meaning. It is there too in the quiet pulse that passes between you and the fox, the moment each of you is seen by the other.

A moment like this is its own destination. Nothing further is required – either of you or the animal. It is utterly complete. This is entirely unlike the rest of our experience which is invariably coloured by the narrative noise in our own heads. The endless often mindless commentary, the time spent ruminating on the past, or worrying about the future.

All of our brain’s chatter, in a moment, stilled. This is what the glance can teach us. The message it has for us is always the same, always urgent, always important. It’s something we know but have to learn over and over again.

Here, it’s saying , Now.

This.

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