Leaf Falling From Fir Tree

The late afternoon sun was baking the sloped meadow where I often sit to settle in to the rhythms of the forest. All was quiet except for the incessant buzzing of some cicadas and a lone orange-crowned warbler who was singing from the oaks to my left, perhaps making a territorial round.

I thought, “This is a pretty boring time to come and sit. Not a lot going on.” I won’t deny that I occasionally (OK, OK, often) want nature to entertain me. Maybe it’s the by-product of years spent watching television and my former immersion in the shiny-object-enticement of a round the clock media culture. Suffice to say, my mind was busy. I was restless and only five minutes through an hour-long sit.

Then I heard a noise from the Douglas fir that stands 30 feet in front of me at the edge of the meadow. It sounded like a dry leaf falling. I caught the slightest movement in my peripheral vision and it got me curious. My eyes began climbing the tree and at the top, they settled on an adult female Cooper’s hawk. Blood red eyes, belly barred with orange and slate blue wings and crown. She was beautiful… and deadly.

Her body language was watchful, head darting back and forth in search of something. She scanned the western woods for 10 minutes and then flew off in that direction. Flap, flap, flap, flap, glide… Flap, flap, flap, flap, glide.

A group of chickadees to my right gulped out a quiet but firm set of alarm calls as she left. The birds were otherwise silent—and had been the whole time, knowing they could have been her meal. Except, of course, for the lone orange-crowned warbler who sang throughout and long after the Cooper’s hawk’s vigil atop that Doug fir. A few minutes after she left, an Anna’s hummingbird entered the meadow, chattering away. Shortly thereafter, the chickadees and bushtits started a relaxed conversation in the oaks and chaparral. What a gift it was to have seen that hawk and the receding wake of disturbance that she left upon flying.

Walking down to my house later, I pondered the dry leaf that had caught my attention in the first place. What had actually fallen? If it was a dry leaf, what was it doing in a coniferous tree? Whatever it was, I felt grateful and humbled for the role it had played in snapping me out of my distraction. I’m wondering now about how many times I’ve missed similar subtle signals that were angling for my attention. I know this injects some intentionality into nature that the scientific mind might find cause to argue with, but I can’t help but see that falling leaf as a snippet of the conversation between me and the wild spirit of the world that is ongoing, whether I’m paying attention or not. It’s a comforting thought, and one that inspires me to keep listening as deeply and carefully as I possibly can.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of an adult Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) taken in Toronto, Canada. (Photo: Wikipedia user Mdf)