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, to be sure. The far horizon and the fields below claimed much more of its attention than glances exchanged with those crossing through its broad gyre every now and then. Who could spare much in the way of an inquiring look or passing acknowledgement or even nodding recognition? That moment’s distraction could mean a rustle in the brush hundreds of feet down slipped the hawk’s 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 20 times per 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 creature and look deep within, it found uncertainty, discomfort, even fear that some rabbit-like failure of nerve would betray what should remain hidden within. At such moments the hawk must decide whether to go for the kill or blink out of pity for the trembling consternation it saw. How could some creatures be so ready for the taking, as though waiting dove-like for the talons that struck without warning and the beak that ripped at will. 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 frail nakedness it seemed almost obscene 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 a lethal swoop with sudden qualms about the power of life and death 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 keen love of the hunt it might seem. Not at times like these, when you had to decide whether to look potential prey in the eye knowing how defenseless it was, how easily exposed and undone, or turn aside and spare it without understanding fully why. Only that breaking eye contact suddenly had the force of an instinct that wouldn’t be denied.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans