The hawks are migrating, but there are still young chicks in the yard. They are at a vulnerable age when they need their mother out of habit rather than need, and she knows it. She lets her fully feathered offspring wander away from the protective shield of her own body. She still clucks to them and gathers them, as a school marm would, when there is something worthy of regard: time to go in, time to go out, or a really nutritious bit of table scrap. It is a funny sound that comes from the chicken yard when they come under aerial attack. Chickens spend most of their life looking down and scratching at dirt, but they stay keenly aware of shapes that go overhead. The shadow of an airplane can give them a start, as can the high pass of a benign seagull. But a tricky hawk—one that perches out of view, tucked deep in a tree’s foliage—can move so accurately and fast that the prey doesn’t see him until he is nearly upon them.
And nor do I. In a world where decibels are measured by jets and leaf blowers, the noise of the chicken yard’s alarm is not very loud, but it is more than just the unified squawk. It is the discrepancy and transition from peaceful calm to momentary panic; the explosion of wing beats, then absolute silence, save the high whistles of the sentries, which are saying, “Don’t move from your hiding spot.”
And then there is me. I run, screaming, clapping and, if need be, hurling things in the general direction of the disturbance. It is my job to make the hawks believe this tempting locale is haunted by a much larger predator, an ogre, that keeps the plump chicken for its own good, not theirs. Even if the hawk has something in its talons, already dead, I do my best to wrest it back.
This time I am nearby, so when the scream goes out I am halfway there and I see the hawk bearing down on the brood. Before there can be impact, a mother hen (which so happens to be pure white) catapults herself directly into the hawk’s path. Chicken flight is just about the opposite of a hawk’s—inaccurate, messy and brief—but the hen creates such a whir of fat and feathers that her chicks escape certain attrition.
So death swept near. The hawk veers to the left, and by then I am in pursuit. He sails up, makes a hard turn and skims over the fence into the recess of my neighbor’s garden.
I am on standby as the sun sets. It felt and looked like mid-October, red flaring from the west as the sky above turned slate gray. A group of nighthawks, also migrating but insect eaters, go bounding overhead.
It is later, after I have marveled again at the beauty and peace of this place, that I understand that my neighbor, Bob Dash, the man who gave us Madoo, had died. One of Sagg’s creative hands had stopped.