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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

A History with Hawks

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

Hawks have been following me around since the 1970’s. My first experience occurred in the nearby farming town of Mecca. I had set up my 4x5 view camera near a fence to photograph a field. I was under the dark cloth adjusting the camera. When I took the cloth off my head, there was a hawk sitting on the fence post about 4 feet from me, his eyes boldly fixed on me.

I just stared. He stared back. I had the unmistakable feeling that something very interesting was happening but couldn’t articulate it. I can count on one hand the number of times in my life I’ve been at a loss for words, and this was one of them. I continued with my photography, and when I looked up again, he was gone.

The only other time in my life I’ve had multiple recurring phenomena was in the late 60’s when three consecutive girlfriends went out and married the next guy they met after having dated me for a while. That I understood perfectly; this is a whole bunch more esoteric.

In the 1990’s when I started to jump out of planes, I used to enjoy one of the interesting singularities only found at Perris Valley Skydiving. Perris had thermals at about 1200 feet. If you had a big enough canopy, you could ride those thermals for 20 minutes or more, never losing altitude, until the next plane was ready to drop its load of skydivers – then you had to spiral down and land quickly. On one Saturday afternoon I was doing just that when I noticed a hawk flying with me off my right most canopy cell. As I flew left and right through the sky he duplicated my every movement. We were in sync, like I was just another giant bird in the sky. No matter how I carved through the air, he shadowed me the way Keith Richards follows the beat laid down by Charlie Watts.

I felt some spiritual connection, something mighty powerful, but ineffable at the same time.

In 1995 I was working in Silicon Valley and used to clock in around 3:30 am so I could work alone in a quiet environment. One morning I heard a loud, resounding thud on the window behind my desk. I turned and saw a baby hawk staring at me through the glass. I suspect he got stunned briefly when he accidentally flew into the window. I was only a few feet from him, and we gawked at each other for at least 15 minutes until I turned around for a moment, looked back, and he was gone.

Something was trying to tell me something, but either I wasn’t listening, or I just couldn’t translate the ancient language being spoken.

In 1999 I travelled with my family to Stigliano, Italy, a small town high up in the mountains of southern Italy. While crossing the mountaintop, both on the way in and the way out of town, a red-tailed hawk circled our car. It stayed with us for miles as we wound our way up and down the mountain.

I don’t believe in coincidences but connecting the dots has continued to both elude and haunt me for so many moons.

About 9 months ago while standing outside our home, I noticed a red-tailed hawk circling lazily above our house. By the time I grabbed my camera she was gone. I began to pattern her behavior and now know she (I’ve seen her flying with a baby) flies in our area around 9:30 am and 3:30 pm. Photographing single birds in flight is very difficult, and I’ve only managed to accomplish it once or twice. It took nine months of diligent effort, but I managed to photograph two males that live nearby. They had been fighting for alpha status, and one has a decidedly damaged wing. It is breathtaking to watch them volplane through the sky, effortlessly being lifted on invisible updrafts. Majestic is usually a word reserved for eagles, but my experience has taught me that hawks are also deserving of this attention.

I keep all of these meetings nestled not-to-far-back in my memory warehouse, because they seem to be interrelated -- and each time one occurs it’s a vivid reconnection with all of the previous encounters.

Not twenty minutes ago I was fetching the mail when the baby hawk circled me and landed in one of our olive trees, again, not 15 feet from me. It’s over 100 degrees outside but this made me shiver. We played the staring game again. I don’t want to imbue these occurrences with anything supernatural, but they always bring to mind something I heard Mother Teresa of Calcutta say in an interview many years ago.

She was asked what she did when she went into church to pray. “I just listen.” The interviewer than asked what God does. She replied: “He just listens too.”

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