Harrass the Hawk
This morning I took a day off the bike to recover from three straight days training and took the train to work. It was another crisp, clear morning, the fourth in a row, temp in the mid-forties. I am savoring this spring weather as the leaves burst forth from the trees as if in time lapse photography and the birds squabble noisily over all the best nesting spots.
My work is near a small wildlife preserve made up mostly of the flood plain of the Neponset River and four hundred or so acres of wetland. A few weeks ago the trees were alive with the songs of all the early male birds staking out their turf and holding forth to attract females too smart to be in the neighborhood while the morning temperatures were still in the thirties. Now they are all busy playing house, though. Judging from the territorial going on, the females are doing a lot of sitting these days.
I got off the train and headed the wrong way up the platform, away from the station, past the "Authorized Personnel!" sign, down the steps and down onto the rail-bed. A siding leads right past the front door of my work and there is plenty of room alongside the tracks to walk, unhindered by speeding trains. As my foot hit the coarse gravel, the big red tail hawk that hangs around the area took off from the top of the utility pole that seems to be his favorite. Immediately on him was a little black bird, turning and twisting in a spectacular attack of a bird maybe ten times its size. Strange, don't you think, that the hawk meekly leaves and does not seek to harm the aggressor?
There is no courage involved, I'm sure. It's all hard wired instinct, nature's aerial display of fatherhood's protective territorial nature. Things are pretty cut and dried in the avian world. The female sits the eggs (most species) and the male goes out and harrasses the hawk. As a result of the development of our society, our human gender roles are not so well delineated, although we have vestigial territorial instincts that manifest themselves in bar fights and squabbles between neighbors. Yet it is never clear whose job it is to fight the hawk. When the predator comes, it might be the female who is the most effective defender, seeking help from a higher authority instead of rushing in with stupid bravado as a male might do. There is a right place for heroics, but it is a narrow place, difficult sometimes to know.
Sometimes the choice is clear and there is no alternative but physical confrontation. Most often, however, it's a cool head that's called for, not a fight.
There was a bully that victimized one of my children. When I heard about some of the things he did, I was pretty angry. This bully was bussed in from a less fortunate neighborhood. My first instinct was to send him back to his parents in a bag, but then I thought, my going to prison would probably not help matters much. I thought if I contacted the kid's parents they might beat him and then the kid would take it out on my kid. I contacted the director of the busing program, but she tried to gloss it over, as if it was not an issue. So I went to the superintendent of schools and tried to get the kid sent back to his own neighborhood school.
I told the superintendent that I don't think that my tax dollars should pay for a kid to be imported from another neighborhood to beat up my kid. I told him I didn't care what color he was, or what color the kid he got to replace him would be. That was not the issue.
The superintendent spoke to the director of the bully importation program who spoke to the kids parents. Apparently whatever talk they had with the child had the desired effect. So all's well that ends well, I guess.
Later we moved to a new condo. The bully had gone on to high school in our neighborhood and became friends with the kid who lived downstairs from us, so he was in our building fairly often. I always said, "Hi." Then once I was putting my bike away and the bully and his friends were talking fifty feet down the road. He was suggesting that he and his friends give me a little hassling, but my neighbor's kid - honor society, leadership award, junior mentor - thought it was not a good idea.
"What if he takes it seriously?" my neighbor's kid wisely asked.
Naturally if I am hassled by four teenage boys twice my size, someone in addition to me is probably going to the hospital, so I am glad my downstairs neighbor had good sense. They're all off to college now and I wish the bully good luck. I hope he learns the lesson of humility without harm.