Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hail Tiresias

Ferruginous hawks are very solitary creatures.

Many species of animal can live quite happily in captivity. Wild boars, for instance, are often glad to give up a little room to roam if the fence keeps the hyenas away. Some species, like Red Tails, thrive in captivity. Well, it’s not exactly captivity when you let the bird off the tether to hunt. You are literally setting the bird free all the time. And Red Tails will come back. They are a lot like cats, another top predator species who really doesn’t mind someone else doing the hunting.

But Ferruginous hawks belong at the other end of the spectrum. Ferrugs live their lives assuming that once they’ve fledged, they will always get their own food or they will starve. Something in their biology makes it very difficult to accept or trust help. They barely like members of their own species, hanging out with their mates only to raise the kids high enough to kick 'em out of the nest. In captivity, ferrugs' gut instincts scream to get away, but the jesses (the leather ankle leashes used in falconry) keep them tethered and they must override their terror repeatedly. It wears on them and usually they frazzle out after just a couple of years of being cared for.

So when Tiresias was swept up in the invisible storm of a windmill and smashed down hard enough to literally have his eyes knocked out, he and the rest of the natural world assumed he would just die with no one to care.

But humans are a strange bunch. And the one who saw Tiresias fall brought him to the hospital at the Lindsey Wildlife Museum where the medical staff cleaned his wounds and drained his now empty eye sockets, gave him fluids and left him in blessed solitude overnight to pass out of this life as peacefully as possible.

Hawk brains are almost entirely devoted to the sense of sight. Hawks can generally hear pretty well, but they hunt so high up that smell is irrelevant. Really, sight is the way they get their information about the world. For Tiresias, the wide world from horizon to horizon that he had always known was now shrunk down to the physical limits of his body and the sounds of unseen people approaching. What we know of Tiresias is that his body was built for self-reliance and sight, and he had lost both completely.

We also know that for some reason he chose to live anyway.

Not only did Tiresias live, he recovered his ability to fly. His wings worked perfectly. If he’d been able to see, he would have been released back into the wild. But the one thing left of his original being was denied to him because of his blindness.

This didn’t stop him from trying. Staff members found him restless on the glove. He could hear spring and it made him stretch out his wings. We don’t know who had the idea originally, but at some point someone took Tiresias for a short glide in the park next to the museum. It took the hawk a few tries to test the limits of the long jess, but eventually, Tiresias learned to be flown. To do this, he had to trust the human at the other end of the jess not to fly him into a tree or a wall.

Tiresias lived at the museum for many years beyond the span of most ferrugs.

All life pushes against the limits of time, the current moment; we are all at the cutting edge of evolution. From the amoeba to the human, the physical vehicles that allow life and consciousness to come into being are all the very latest models. And in all of them, the possibility exists to push past the instincts and habits that arise from one’s physiology to become something more than just physical. We can look at our limits and see our own opportunities for adventure into the unknown.

Picture Credit: © 2006 Louis-M. Landry. [Alas, this is not a picture of Tiresias, himself. It is a different Ferrug and also how I imagine Tiresias looking as he hunts in the Summerlands.]

1 comment:

mamiel said...

Wow, what a cool story!