The pigeons are swooping in a feathering arc above the church spire, a green copper blade jutting into the belly of impossibly blue skies. It’s warm but later in the day than it seems. What do they know, these stupid birds, that makes them fly so high this morning? There is the tiniest hint of fall in the morning light and crisp shadows, in the low humidity, in the lack of summer noises. My body picks up on nature’s subtle cues as surely as the pigeons. A double urge brews in me– to speed up my consumption of these intoxicating days or to methodically prepare for the cold ahead. It’s a push/pull. I’m no pigeon…I think. I think, therefore I am not a pigeon, coursing high this morning like a raptor only to descend on familiar ground to live like a winged rodent.
Rodents thrive on scavenging scraps left behind by other animals. Raptors ravage the skies and fields. Though I have no desire to lay waste to anything or anyone, I feel the pull to fly higher and higher, not to follow or scavenge or live parasitically. Raptors seize their live prey through power and speed and skill. And yet I have witnessed teams of sparrows and blackbirds chase a large hawk away by pestering the hunter off its perch and out of their neighborhood through relentless pecks. There is a pathetic sort of justice in such a scene. Hawks will eat other birds that do not band together.
Many folks live like rodents, scurrying about, beady-eyed, furtive. They live close to the ground, underneath a layer of protection. Opportunity, which is food, supplies their direction. Opportunity seizes them rather than the other way around. Out they dart for the remains of a Happy Meal in a dumpster. Now raptors (the name comes from the Latin for “seized”) seize opportunity as it hops across a cornfield or unwinds in the grass. It is a majestic sight to see a raptor rise up to the cell tower top and shred its catch in one steel talon while balancing on the other. The vantage of his view matches his magnificent vision. Seems like an obvious choice to me: hawk or pigeon, which is nothing more than a mouse with wings? “The unexamined life”, so the saying goes, “is not worth living”. How can you examine what you cannot see? To a mouse, a lost golfball in the weeds can appear colossal. Not so for the hawk.
I watched a kid, maybe 11 years old, go into the convenience store yesterday as I pumped gas. Fat and slumpy he slouched into the joint. I predicted correctly that he would exit with a sugar product of some size. Out he came in a few minutes with a 32 ounce supersized frozen cola slurp. He held it awkwardly against his chubby cheek as he bit the paper cover off a plastic straw. The kid triumphantly blew the remaining paper sleeve off the straw and walked on, sucking his chilled empty calories. The breakfast of champions. A pigeon, another pigeon! In a few more years he will be even fatter, need even bigger sugar hits, and leave even more trash in his wake. He will need to live near a sugar, fat, salt supplier so that he can scurry or roll back and forth. It’s maddening and sad at the same time. This kid is morphing into an unhealthy creature in front of his family and friends, and no one seems to think anything is wrong. Pigeons!
What’s the bother? Why not live and let live? But the kid is dying along with half of our country, killed not by invaders from beyond our borders but from an army of indulgence welling up in his belly. He will swell until he is defenseless, like a puffed up clucking pigeon. His empty calorie life will be of no consequence.