One day my sister and I were walking home from school. It was a windy, hoodie-weather day in the should-be-spring of early April. We were talking through an exam we had just taken when something huge and brown landed in front of us. A giant bird of prey perched three feet in front of us on the wet side walk. It was more than a foot tall and clutched a limp squirrel corpse in its talons, ready to chow down. I determined later, by looking at my bird book, that this was a Red-tailed hawk. This was not the type of thing you normally get to see up close, and yet, it was happening right here, in front of someone’s house in the center of suburbia. My sister made us cross to the other side of the street when the creature turned its black owlish eyes toward us but I could not make myself walk any farther away. It was fascinating to watch it rip apart the animal, fur, flesh and all.
It felt like a privilege to watch this very natural process in person. At the same time I felt sympathy for the bird. A few minutes later, someone parked in front of the house and the bird retreated to the neighbors porch roof, leaving it’s meal behind. I could not help remembering a science fair project that I had done on urban sprawl and thinking that before we sprawled into its habitat, the bird could be eating this squirrel in peace, without the disturbance of cars or pedestrians.
Though I am sure it had no such feelings of reverence towards us, I felt honored to be watching this beautiful creature. It brought to mind an article I just read in the YES Magazine about the power of language in the way that we view the earth. The author criticized our use of “it” to describe everything related to earth. No wonder, we do not respect things that are given such an inanimate name. Though they are all part of Mother Earth, we call them “it”, something that we would never use to refer to our mother or family. The author contrasts the English language in this regard with the languages of indigenous people, many of whom have respect for the earth built into their culture and language. Just as these people refer to organisms as kin, I did not feel that it was appropriate in that moment with the hawk to say “it.” I understood, watching the majestic scene, the article authors’ rejection of degrading ways of referring to the natural world.
(article: YES Magazine, Spring 2015, p. 34, IT: Alternative Grammar: A New Language of Kinship by Robin Wall Kimmerer)