Emily’s Angleworm

Though I supposed myself a serious graduate student, studying 19th-Century American Literature at Columbia, it now comes clear that I took away only one snippet from what that century had to offer–Emily Dickinson brief remark:

A little bird walked down the path
it did not know I saw

It bit an angleworm in half
and ate the fellow raw.

Yesterday I wrote this on the back of an envelope, just to make sure it didn’t slither off into oblivion. The occasion was not pure whimsy, but a glimpse out the back window at a shape looming in the bare elm. Hawk!

The huge bird swiveled its head, somewhat disdainful as wind tufted its feathers. On the ground, under the wide branches of the white pine, gray squirrels kept eating seeds. Not a sparrow or chickadee in sight.

I consulted the Sibley Guide to Birds. Hawk, yes. But precisely what kind I couldn’t tell. Dark back, long tail, paler front. Could have been any number of juveniles or females. I didn’t think it was an immature bald eagle, though it seemed huge against the gray sky..

The next time I looked, a squirrel had inserted itself onto the other end of the branch and was advancing toward the tall, still bird. Stupid squirrel. Frisking, frolicking. Courting danger, I thought. Squirrel ran right toward the towering bird who looked down its nose at the annoyance. What the devil? I thought. Doesn’t it know any better? Squirrel advanced, bird hopped an inch away. Squirrel skittered. Paused. Advanced.

Lifting its regal shoulders in an almost audible “Well!” the hawk spread wide dark wings, soared low into the yard, inserted itself between the houses, and was gone, leaving behind the chance to eat any darn thing raw.

This morning the wind blew bitter. I left for an appointment and returned. Squirrels eating, Birds invisible.
Too cold, I thought and hurried inside. At the window maybe twenty minutes later, expecting to see nothing, I found a regal, orange-chested Cooper’s Hawk (unmistakable) holding to the ground a splay-winged pigeon. “Come quick,” I called into the house. We both saw it. I put my nose in the book. Fran said, “It’s squirming. Must be still alive.” I looked up. Raw prey and predator were gone.

The back-yard dusted itself off. An hour later, it was full of birds, as many as could stand the fierce wind before rushing for shelter in the spruce. It didn’t matter what we saw. So there, Emily, with your flouncy fella raw.

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