I’m at the dog park with Buster enjoying a beautiful day when one of the regulars taps me on the shoulder.
“Hey,” he says. “Look. There’s a hawk over there.”
I turn around and see a large brown hawk standing fifty yards outside the fence.
“Wow,” I say. “There’s something you don’t see every day.”
“What’s that in front of him? Look like a squirrel.”
“Could be a rabbit.”
“Whatever it is,” the regular says. “I think it’s dead.”
I have no idea what kind of hawk’s out there but my guard goes up. Hawks have been known to carry small dogs away. My head swivels on my neck to locate Buster. He’s playing with a King Charles spaniel underneath a picnic table. I don’t think this hawk could carry my dog away but he could maul him terribly. But the little Chihuahuas running around? They’d be dead meat.
I look back at the hawk. Standing stock still he seems to be regarding the dog enclosure like it’s his personal delicatessen. It’s a magnificent looking bird. A hunter. A killer. An apex predator. And he’s watching us watching him.
“You think he killed that thing?” the regular asks. “Or was it dead already?”
“Could be,” I say. I’m not an ornithologist. I’m not sure if hawks are scavengers.
“He seems hesitant to go near it.”
“It’s a dead thing in New Jersey,” I say. “Good knows what toxic crap’s inside it.”
As we’re talking I notice a young woman obliviously walking her Maltese towards the hawk. Come to think of it, no one else in the park notices the bird either. They’re smoking, watching their dogs, kibitzing or texting on their cell phones. Because the hawk’s natural camouflage makes it invisible against the brown grass I wouldn’t have noticed if the regular hadn’t pointed it out. There are over a hundred people frolicking in the park and this guy and I are the only ones who see the hunter lurking on its fringes.
Last year I was at the beach in La Jolla, California watching the seals sunning themselves on the rocks. It was a beautiful sunny day and the tourists were out in force snapping photographs. The young woman who took me there was cooing about how cute the seal pups looked but I knew something she didn’t or chose to forget – wherever there are seals there are Great White sharks. Beneath the rolling blue waters another type of apex predator was lying in wait. No one could see them but I knew they were there. While everyone was enjoying the seals and sea air I was focused on the threat beneath the waves. And that kind of saddened me. But I’ve been like that most of my life.
Just as I’m about to warn the woman with the Maltese the hawk grabs it’s prey in its talons and flies away. As its huge wings power it up into the sky my mouth drops open. The hawk’s beautiful, powerful and majestic. And just like the sharks off the coast of La Jolla, the hawk and his brethren are always around. But that’s okay. They’re not evil. They’re just there. And they serve a role.
I leash Buster up and drive home. Just as I’m getting out of the car the cop who lives next to me pulls up in his police cruiser. He’s a big strong guy with a ready smile and a friendly disposition. But on his belt he’s carrying a handgun, a shotgun’s mounted in the cruiser’s front rack and an M-16’s secured in the trunk. They’re tools for handling a different kind of predator. But unlike the hawk and the shark these hunters are neither beautiful nor serve a role. They’re just there. And though we don’t always see them, or chose to forget them, they’re always around. And even in the bucolic town I live in they occasionally make an appearance. That saddens me too.
After I feed Buster I mix myself a drink and go onto my front porch to smoke a cigar. Evening has fallen and the air is deliciously cool. As the streetlights flicker into life I sip my drink and think about La Jolla. One day I’ll have to face what lies beneath the waves of the human sea.