Saturday, January 28, 2017

Birds of a feather

Photo by Karen Garrett, Forest Preserves of Cook County.

     "Chop skin hock," my neighbor called to me, from the rolled down window of her SUV, stopping on Cedar Lane.
     I paused, walking the dog Tuesday, and gazed at her with bovine incomprehension. Day by day, the world becomes more of a puzzle...
     "," she said, articulating each word. Then drove off.
     We live in a friendly neighborhood, with everyone greeting and chatting with everyone else. Or maybe it's just me. Making my thrice-daily rounds with the dog, I love waving to Janet, the crossing guard, as she rolls past, on her way to her morning post in her heavy-duty Tundra pickup and anyone else I know, or don't know. There are maybe five core neighbors on my block, friends who have been over our house and had us over their house, and we almost always exchange a few words, if not talk for 20 minutes, people I've loaned power tools to, or borrowed them from. Anyone who makes eye contact gets a smile and a nod. I'm well-acquainted with the dozen or so dogs on the surrounding three blocks who are friendly, and the half dozen or so who are not (though sometimes I suspect it is the owner, and not the dog, who is actually unfriendly, and am not beyond mournfully informing Kitty as we walk away, "That's not a friendly dog," in a voice just loud enough to be heard).
     I wasn't particularly thrown by my neighbor's enigmatic message.  Still, I reported the remark to my wife.
    "She said, 'Shoppinghon,'" I said. My wife thought a moment. "Washington," she explained. "That's probably it." Nothing more needed to be discussed.
    I didn't like the mystery, but wasn't about to knock on her door and ask. "Hey, what was it you called to me in the street the other day?"
     It might be better not to know.  "Washington" made sense. These are strange times, and the bitter politics have filtered down to my Richard Scarry storybook street. Maybe somehow related to the women's march, a subject we'd studiously avoided the day before, being on opposite sides of the political spectrum as we are. But we can't allow that to poison our interactions too. Our dogs, oblivious to the changes in government, nosed each other and we talked about ... what? The large hawk that had settled into the tree across the street, in front of my house—our block has hawks, owls, birds of all kind. It's a wonderful thing. I was speculating on how nice it would be to have a camera with a long lens, for just such a moment. We had been idling, waiting for the hawk to take to wing so we could better see it, speculating on its identity.
    "Cooper's hawk," I said, with false confidence. A guess, more or less. She seemed skeptical, pointing out a bold white line on its tail.
    Now it was Wednesday morning and, as fate would have it, I was trucking home down Center Avenue just as my neighbor was pulling her SUV out of her driveway to take her daughter to school. I knew if I put on a burst of speed I could arrive at the spot where her car paused while she put it into forward. Her window was already open.
     "Did you figure it out?" she said. My blank look must have registered. "No," I smiled.
     "Sharp...Shinned...Hawk," she said. "You can tell by the white line on the tail."
Cooper's Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk
     Ah. The Sharp-Shinned Hawk. Very similar to the Cooper's Hawk and no shame in the error (if it was an error. The bird has flown, and I yield nothing, though I like to give people the benefit of the doubt). Cornell has an excellent guide to the differences between the two birds, on the scant chance than anyone beside myself cares).
     And the point is? When the youngest boy left for college, I announced we could now happily move to the city. My wife parried that we lived in such a nice block, and that we'd be fools to flee that. I couldn't argue. I'm sure it must be an illusion, but I swear I can feel the little blurp of happy dopamine squirt in my brain after pausing to chat with someone. We are social animals. At least I am. And if the subject is birds, all the better. At least the disagreements are subject to the underlying belief that we live in a concrete world of established facts and categories. A hawk is not a handsaw. Not yet anyway.


  1. Saw a hawk in the alley behind my house on South Keeler the other day and was happy to be able to distinguish it from a pigeon. Don't have a clue what kind of hawk it was, but guess it doesn't come around very often, since it's the first time in I've seen one in the 20 years I've lived here.



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