Stay sharp

The other morning I was walking Paul, and a hawk swooped down very low just beside us. Not close enough that Paul noticed—though honestly, half the time he doesn’t see rabbits within three feet of him, while they twitch their nervous noses beneath a cholla—but I swear, I could hear the soft ruffle of its approach, and feel a prickle up the back of my neck as some lizard brain part of me tried to diagnose the sound.

I’m not afraid of the wildlife in our neighborhood. Several hawks roost in our area, and sometimes they sit in our eucalyptus tree, dropping sparrow offal into the gravel as they eat. The coyotes (who have, I’m guessing, a stronger prey drive than my dog) leave scat and rabbit haunches in our front yard. Once, I saw one tossing a rabbit up into the air, over and over, and though I assume this was more practical than emotional, the coyote looked quite joyous.

I don’t, I suppose, love the javelinas, though maybe I should, since they’re the most wild. They only show up in the cooler months, and are absolutely indifferent to human norms. The resident animals react to human beings and our familiars: even a buff and rugged coyote, a ballsy hawk, will slink away if barked at or startled. But you can yell in the face of a javelina, to no effect. They will look at you like a bored city-dweller on the subway; they have seen it all.

Could a hawk pick my dog up? I doubt it. He weighs more than 40 pounds. Would a hawk? Maybe. Once I saw a pack of coyotes running through the neighborhood with a white pet chicken, spreading feathers behind them. Sometimes outdoor cats disappear. The doves are on borrowed time. Songbirds, now, are beginning to wake up and maraud through my garden, though it’s not quite warm enough for the joyful freakout they are due to have in a month or so, drunk on sun and season.

People often warn me, when I’m on walks, that they’ve seen wild animals nearby, but honestly, I’m much more nervous when I see people. We are much less predictable, more erratic. A red pickup swerved through my neighborhood this morning at what seemed like 65 miles per hour, but no one thought to warn me about that: just the coyote sunning itself against a wall, which looked at me placidly, not moving, not with any agenda. Sometimes I sit outside in the sun in just the same way. What is the point of any of this? I don’t know. That some part of my body is aware of what’s going on around it, whether I know it or not. The prickle of hair that says something is approaching; the warm heartbeat of blood beneath my skin when the air smells cool and sweet and welcoming.

We feel so much that we train ourselves to feel nothing at all. But the feelings are there, and the instincts with them, and I don’t know. I don’t know how to live, all the time, but I also don’t know how not to.