I watched a hawk sweep down and pulverize a dove. The hawk perched on an oak branch and the dove, distracted by the wind and some seed on the lawn, stopped paying attention. It happens. The hawk isn’t fast as much as he is silent, just a simple cliff dive, stepping off the branch, and, wings out, sweeps in with perfect form with his claws out front to grab the dove at the neck. A sudden puff of feathers busts into the air, and the raptor is gone. So is the dove.
This time the dove simply stood on the grass. She had been facing the direction of the hawk and when she turned around the hawk flew into action. The dove seemed to hunch down like she knew what was about to happen. Gone.
I wondered if she just gave in, like she’d had enough. Sometimes the natural instinct to survive is not as strong as simple resignation. I get like that.
When I was in high school some friends and I went to the beach on the bay. At some point one friend and I decided to swim out to the end of a very long pier. We made it but we were exhausted and ended up helping each other back, each of us taking a turn at holding the other until we were at the breakers and could ride in. She and I just collapsed on the beach, spent. It isn’t like we weren’t in shape. We had stamina; we just swam too far out. I wonder when it is that people decide to give up? I wonder if we had been another hundred feet would it have been too far or would we have found the strength and determination to push it.
I mean, did we collapse on the beach because we couldn’t go another yard or because we didn’t have to?
I wonder how often I’ve given up because I thought I found the shore when the truth is I could have probably held out for more, pushed it a bit, opted to swim a bit further.
It’s cold today, but sunny, and the hawk is around—I can hear him, though the doves are feeding on the porch rail where it is safe and out of sight. Earlier out on the river I noticed the osprey have returned from South America and found food for their offspring, and the cormorants have returned too. Sometimes some river dolphins swim under the Rappahannock Bridge, but not yet this season. I find peace here. I think mostly though I like the area because of the water and the sand. Ironically, the first time I was in this area was exactly ten years before I bought the land to build the house. Just across the river is The Tides Inn, a quiet resort right on the Rappahannock. For my parents’ thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, my father invited us all to stay at the Inn. It was an excellent time, and we went for a river cruise on the Miss Anne, a riverboat which went under the bridge, and we followed the south shore and returned to the Inn along the north shore, turning around at the mouth of the river into the Chesapeake. I had no clue we passed close enough to my eventual home to be able to cast a line to shore and pull us in.
Thirty-one years later I’m watching osprey feeding their young out across the same bridge, while hawks stand watch in oak trees waiting for doves to stand still.
I was born a moving target; I’m not sure I ever learned when was the right time to collapse on the beach. The hawks have for the most part missed me up until now. When I do settle down it is usually to look at a map. Ironically, since I moved into this house I have traveled more than I ever dreamed I would—Russia, Prague, Amsterdam, Spain, France, Norway, and plenty of states. And at night in the darkness we use the telescope to travel through the heavens out across the waters and find planets and meteors. We often joke about one of the meteors ripping through the atmosphere and hitting us in the back of the head while we’re facing the other way. Raptor, rapture? Whatever. Done. But not done.
When I was in college a friend had a poster on his wall promoting Nike. It was a long shot of a winding road through open country with one solitary runner, and the tag line said, “There is no finish line.” I like that. If we didn’t know when to stop I wonder how often we would keep moving. I’m not an advocate of indecision, but I’m a staunch opponent of settling for something when there’s still more options for the ones willing to wander a bit more. It is, to be sure, a delicate balance, and like chemistry or psychology, or passion, finding that line between “Keep going, it’s worth it,” and “You know what? Fuck it,” is not an easy call for everyone. Sometimes you need someone to help you over the reach; sometimes when you’re ready to give up, a quick turn back and a “Hang in there,” is all it takes.
Certainly I get tired as I move forward, especially on the days when I’m not sure where I’m going or how long it will take to get there, and I’m doing my best to move past the silent judgements and thinly disguised treading of water. But when I think about that swim to the end of the pier and back, I don’t often recall the collapse on the sand; I remember how quiet and peaceful it was for just the two of us, taking turns helping each other, sorry we tried yet, honestly, not sorry we tried. It was hard to tell if we were helping each other or saving ourselves.
Well, the truth is, all we can do is help each other. It’s the only way to save ourselves.
The journey doesn’t necessarily end because we found a safe place to rest