Once a hawk had trouble maintaining eye contact. Being something of a loner, it didn’t have that many occasions to look into the eyes of others, of course. The horizon or the fields below claimed far more of its attention than glances exchanged with others crossing through its broad gyre every now and then. Who could spare much in the way of an inquiring glance or passing acknowledgement or even nodding recognition? That moment’s distraction could mean a rustle in the brush a thousand feet down slipped its notice. Was it too single-minded in its pursuits, the hawk sometimes asked itself, and missed the chance to strike up acquaintances that would soften its reputation for aloofness? What must it be like to give and receive a “hail fellow well met” look twenty times a day? To be on a first name basis with those who were perfect strangers the day before? The hawk was aware of the effect its piercing stare could have upon those it encountered. How when it chanced to lock eyes with another and look deep within, it found uncertainty, discomfort, even fear that some rabbit-like failure of nerve would betray what should remain hidden. At such moments the hawk must decide whether to go in for the kill or blink out of pity for the trembling nakedness revealed. How could some creatures be so ready for the taking? As though their hearts beat in plain view, waiting to embrace the talons that struck and the beak that ripped without pause. Caught in the hawk’s eye, they proved incapable of looking away and sparing themselves. Instead they yielded up their innermost selves on the spot in such helpless fright it seemed almost a crime to accept them. There were times when the hawk’s disbelief that any creature so unguarded was meant for this world caused it to pull out of its lethal descent with sudden qualms about the power it held. To pursue the defenseless, what gain or virtue lay in that? Cornered in their surprise, with no retreat and no possibility of glancing away and pretending the hawk was not upon them, so close now they could see their own panic frozen in its stare—would striking to the deepest of their secrets satisfy the hawk? Or once started, would it lay every one of them open to the light, until neither the greatest nor the least had been spared? Being a bird of prey wasn’t always the fell love of the hunt it might seem. Not at times like these, when you had to decide whether to look life in the eye knowing how vulnerable it was, how easily exposed and undone, or to turn aside and spare it that violation without understanding fully why. Only that breaking eye contact suddenly had the force of an instinct that wouldn’t be denied.
Copyright © 2007 by Geoffrey Grosshans