This Heaven-Sent Bird Eased Her Worries

The rare Goshawk helped her rediscover the joys of nature—and distracted her from her Covid-19 anxiety.  

Posted in , Feb 25, 2021

An artist's rendering of a goshawk in flight; Illustration by Christina Wald

Months into Covid-19 self-isolation at our cabin in the Adirondacks, I’d gotten used to living with anxiety. There was so much to worry about and so little to distract me besides the TV, which just made me more tense.

”Let’s take Moose for a long walk,” my husband, Neil, said one afternoon. “He could use a change of pace.”

I knew Neil was hoping to lift my mood as well. Moose wiggled happily and wagged his tail. For my husband’s sake, I decided I would try to cheer up. Watching our big, goofy dog run down the woodsy trails by our cabin usually brought a smile to my face.

“Thought we’d take a new route to the pond today,” Neil said as we started out. “We’ll hit two forks. Turn right at both of them.”

I leaned down to let Moose off his leash. As I did, I noticed a bird perched on a low tree branch beside the path. An owl? I thought. No, it was a northern goshawk. “That bird is watching us,” I said, gesturing in its direction.

“I’ve never seen a goshawk come so close,” Neil said. He wasn’t alone in that. Not only was the bird unusually close, but also in my 40 years in the Adirondacks I’d never seen a goshawk this time of year. The summer woods were too dense.

We walked on and the bird took flight. It went only a short distance before alighting on another branch, where it waited until we caught up. Once more the goshawk flew and landed within eyesight. This became a pattern. Alight, watch, wait and fly. Alight, watch, wait and fly. Eight times the goshawk did this, its actions beckoning us to follow.

“This feels like something out of Harry Potter,” I said as we approached the first fork in the path. The bird waited in a tree until we were almost beneath it, then flew to the right.

“Do you think it’s leading us away from a nest?” Neil asked.

“Seems unlikely,” I answered. “Goshawks attack humans who get too close to their nests. This one almost seems friendly.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was showing us the way.” Almost to prove Neil right, the bird landed on the ground at the second fork. When we approached, he flew off to the right toward the pond. There he landed in a tree beside the water, as if inviting us to rest ourselves. Which we did.

Sitting by the pond with sunshine shimmering on the water, I felt calmer than I had in a long time. I realized I hadn’t thought about the virus since we first saw the bird. “This was an excellent idea,” I told Neil.

The next day, when Moose rushed to the door for his afternoon walk, I was just as excited about it as he was. “Let’s go to the pond again,” I said. “Maybe we’ll meet up with our goshawk.”

I scanned the trees as we walked. I didn’t see the goshawk, but I did notice, for the first time, how the sunlight turned the leaves so many shades of green and how those leaves shivered when a breeze passed through them. And I never thought about Covid-19.

We returned to the pond again and again, keeping an eye out for the goshawk. I always saw something new. One day we found what looked like curled bits of white rubber scattered around a depression in the sandy bank. “Hatched snapping turtle eggs,” I realized. “I didn’t even know there was a nest here.”

“The eggs would have been hidden away in the dirt for safety,” Neil said.

I collected the best-preserved shells to show our grandchildren when we could finally see them again. “The kids will be amazed to hear that turtles have been on earth for more than six million years. Outlasting the dinosaurs.” That was something to think about!

On another day, I spotted a pair of foot-long horned bullheads swimming in shallow water right near the shore. The fish seemed to be acting in concert. “What are they protecting?” I asked Neil. “It looks like a clump of black ink.”

The black ink suddenly separated itself into a group of baby bullheads. I gasped. “I didn’t know fish stayed together after mating!”

I googled bullheads as soon as we got home. Sure enough, adult bullheads remained together to guard their young, sometimes for weeks.

Neil and I threw ourselves into the world around us. We sat outside the cabin in folding chairs and fed the chipmunks, some of them taking food right from our hands. At the lake we watched a grown loon feed a fish to a juvenile. We gathered wild blackberries. How had I ever thought there was nothing here to distract me?

“I wonder what happened to that great blue heron who used to fly past our dock,” I said to Neil one evening. I could picture her long, skinny legs stretched out behind her, her strong wings pumping up and down. “I haven’t seen her all summer.”

A week later, Neil and I were sitting outside, savoring the sweet smell of balsam fir trees and listening to the sounds of crows cawing overhead. I glanced up at the sky and there she was. It was like meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen for a long while.

At the end of September, I sat working at my computer. The temperature was falling. Soon Neil and I would put our boat in storage, drain the water from the pipes and shutter our cabin for the winter. Say goodbye to the turtles, the bullheads, the chipmunks, the heron…

Movement outside the window caught my eye. A goshawk swooped down and landed on our wooden bench. Was it the same goshawk who’d guided us on our new route to the pond, taking a right at both forks just as we’d planned? The one who’d opened my eyes to the beautiful distractions all around me? I couldn’t be sure. But spotting a goshawk twice in one summer was notable. And this time, he was right outside my window.

The goshawk turned his head, as if acknowledging me. Then he spread his wings and flew heavenward. Back toward the One who’d no doubt sent him my way.

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