Eye to Eye with a Red-Shouldered Hawk

                                                                                                            –for Bob Roberts

The other day I was taking my daily walk in the Los Rios District of San Juan Capistrano and I came eye to eye with a red-shouldered hawk sitting in a bush next to the street.

People in Orange County joke about living “behind the Orange Curtain,” or complain about how cosmopolitan and built up the area has become. But what I love about this area is that if you know which direction to drive, you find yourself in what I think of as “the old California,” just the way it was one hundred or three hundred years ago.

When you take the Ortega Highway Exit off the North 5 Freeway, turn right, and drive for ten minutes, you find yourself out in the foothills of the Ortega Mountains in a place that feels ancient and completely wild. The Tree of Life Nursery, the Cleveland National Forest, a waterfall in a canyon, a stream with a sand beach, and several sacred places where I do ritual can be found in that direction. If you turn left, drive toward the train station, and walk across the tracks, you find yourself on Los Rios, the oldest continuously inhabited street in California.

Los Rios is a time machine, lined with old houses made of clapboard, a few adobes, some sweet prefab houses, and a few semi-Victorians. Everyone vies with everyone else to have the most fabulous yard with the most colorful geraniums the size of oxen, the most rose bushes and extravagant trellises, cactuses higher than a two-story building, and every other type of native plant you can name, including runaway clumps of purple flowering Cleveland sage. In the springtime when the roses are at their height, both literally and figuratively, you walk down those streets knowing at that moment that you are the luckiest person alive.

I’ve always wanted to live in the District. If I had a house there, I would never have to drive anywhere again. I could eat lunch at the Los Rios Tea House, the Hidden House Café, the Hummingbird House, or Ramos House. (And the people who own these divine restaurants mostly live above or behind them.) I could stroll up to the Regency San Juan Capistrano where the marquis is decorated with those big old-style movie bulbs in all different colors and where you can get a glass of wine at Rick’s Café before the film starts. In the evenings, I’d sit out on my porch under the old, old trees and enjoy the coolness of the evening air and a stillness broken only by the sound of crickets, tree frogs, panicked rabbits, and the Amtrack commuter train passing by every so often a few blocks away.  Or I could walk down to the old river, half contained within a concrete waterway and half lost in trees and underbrush, next to the park where 400 ravens come home to settle in every evening after a long day of foraging.

So on the evening of my visitation, the sun had just gone down and it was fast approaching dusk. There he was, sitting in a bush like a common sparrow, an enormous hawk. I’d never seen one up close before. Usually, they are hundreds of yards up, riding the thermals, although there’s a hawk that shoots past my study window once in a while and a hawk (maybe the same one since they need a large area to forage) that likes to sit on top of one of the street lights lining Avenida Pico in San Clemente. But this particular hawk was living my dream. He had staked his claim in the Los Rios District. I guess even hawks have to call someplace home.

My friend Bob Roberts always says that we don’t see a hawk but that a hawk “shows itself to us.” This beautiful bird showed itself to me that evening. I can’t describe the way my heart felt looking at him, like the Universe had just told me a secret, given me an astonishing gift. I felt the kind of happiness we all experienced as children when we found the pheasant’s nest hidden in the grass of the field, or saw baby bobwhites running in a line, or turned to see the lilac bushes covered with seven kinds of butterflies, or realized that the cherries we’d been watching for weeks were finally ripe. I remember the heart-stopping joy that I felt one day when I looked into a crevice in the sandstone wall my father had built and saw four baby robin necks stretch up and open their bright yellow beaks because they thought I was their mother.

When I stepped a little closer, the hawk moved up from his bush onto a low tree branch. We remained eye to eye for a few more minutes. Then a group of four people approached, out for their evening walk, and he took off, soaring low between the trees and above the dry September grass of the park.

Secret joy is the sweetest, and writing about it feels like pure love.

About Joy Parker

As a three-time cancer survivor and storyteller, I felt compelled to create this blog because I felt the need to connect with an audience and immediately share what I am learning as I am learning it. The material in this blog is serving as the basis for two books that I am writing. The first book talks about how illness is a vehicle that takes us into the unknown land, teaches us things we couldn’t otherwise learn, and then gives us the opportunity to bring them back to our community. It offers a compass and creates a map of the unknown land so that others might find their path more easily. Most important, it shares what I have learned about waking up and being truly alive in this magnificent world. That might sound simple enough, but the actual experience is devastatingly beautiful and powerful. The second project is a book with medicine cards discussing many of the lessons I’ve learned from my experiences with healing and as a healer, the indigenous world, and walking a spiritual path. Most important, it is the story of the development of my own personal mythology. People tend to think of myths as massive stories and beliefs that develop in a culture over hundreds or thousands of years. We now live in a time of crisis and we don’t have a hundred years. The time for healing and transformation is now, and we are the ones we have been waiting for.
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6 Responses to Eye to Eye with a Red-Shouldered Hawk

  1. Tayria Ward says:

    Oh my goodness, I feel like I too was just given that gift just because I got to hear about it. A few minutes eye-to-eye with a hawk is like hours or years eye-to-eye with anything else. I’m thrilled for you. It’s a life experience I’m sure you will never forget. It’s gorgeous that you know what you want so clearly. I want you to move into that district and write about it all the time! If I were living in L.A. again, I’d make a pilgrimage as soon as I could to see it. Thank you for this, Joy.

    • joyparker says:

      I love it when you write, “A few minutes eye-to-eye with a hawk is like hours or years eye-to-eye with anything else.” I hadn’t thought about it like that, but it’s so very true!

      It reminds me of the time my sister was here from the East Coast doing a training for her job and she brought her two-year-old daughter Elizabeth. Even though it was a cool overcast October day, Lizzy wanted to go the beach. So we bundled up and went. We were sitting on the sand on a blanket when suddenly, an enormous pelican landed just a few feet from us. Those bird are BIG. Elizabeth kind of levitated off the sand and glided over my hip and into my lap, then took cover within the cave of my arms. Even since then, I’ve felt that Pelican is her totum. The bird was at least as tall as she was, if not taller, so it was another awesome mouth-hanging-open-in-sheer-disbelief-at-your-luck experience.

  2. Bob Roberts says:

    Joy, Hawk has reminded us and offered us all assurance that you are one of the trusted ones…that you carry the integrity and courage to be real with those around you…and that this gives your writing the honesty and eloquence that can make those of us who have never seen Los Rios fall hopelessly in love with it. Thank you for taking Hawk’s gift and offering it to your village, and for including me in it. Bob

  3. Artemisia Hunt says:

    Your hawk encounter sounds like a very good omen. My husband always says that seeing a large bird, and especially seeing one up close, portends something special.

    We have been enjoying our own hawk medicine here in our new backyard…though nothing quite as close as you describe! We have quite a few hawks that live in the trees that border our yard and our next door neighbor’s. We see them land on the fences and we see them swoop down after prey…including some of our smaller squirrels!

    They are truly mesmerizing to watch.

  4. Leslie says:

    Dear Joy, I loved reading about your hawk encounter! It is very rare indeed to see a hawk at eye level, unless it is in a cage (which I have seen all too often, especially traveling in Central America). How lovely that this magnificent bird was free, and that the two of you shared this wonderful moment! I love your writing. Thank you so much for sharing!

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