Winter Solstice and the Hawk

December 21, 2003. Sunrise’s glow opened my eyes this winter solstice morning. The rising sun sparkled against the frosted apple orchard. I wandered through the silent stand of trees. The silence broke with wings that rhythmically parted the still frosted air above. A large red-tailed hawk passed overhead and landed nearby on an ancient cottonwood crag at the Rio Embudo’s edge. By its size, I guessed this raptor to be a female, for they are larger than the male red-tailed hawk. Perched, it reviewed the unearthly still landscape. It seemed to ignore me but I knew that it knew my presence. After a while, it was relaxed and preened around its wings until something unseen to me caught the hawk’s keen eyes. 

The sun, stretched over the 13,000 foot stony Truchas Peaks behind this valley.  The flawless rays flashed against the raptor’s rust-colored tail as it effortlessly left the crag to search out the distraction down river. 

Something floated to the ground from the riverside crag when it left. The ice-edged banks flanked the water that funneled through the center path of least resistance.  Like the river, I cut a path of least resistance to the now starkly barren cottonwood crag. Inches from my icy feet my eye caught view of a shed feather left behind by this magnificent creature. 

In reverence to this hawk, I picked up the feather. It brought to mind Jamie Sams and David Carson’s book, Medicine Cards. It was uncanny that this female raptor and I had such a personal experience together that ended with a gift, or was it a message left behind. The book’s authors noted that hawk is a messenger. Perhaps the message was to pay attention to signals around me that life will change.

But how could I grasp this message while in the arms of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, as a spectacular deep turquoise dome filled a now frigid twilight sky—a sky as clear as a quartz crystal—the solstice sky? 

Winter solstice. I celebrated this day when the light returns to its long path. It reminded me that when I fall into a dark hole where the light cannot penetrate, the winter solstice proves me wrong. The light never disappears. As the sun faded, I lit white candles in celebration of light’s return, with the gifted feather next to the flickering candles.

As I skipped down life’s road in early 2004,  my life took a drastic change when my physician said, “There’s a lump deep in your left breast. I’m sending you in for a mammogram immediately.” 

It felt like a thousand mile ride home to our cabin in Dixon, NM.  The landscape turned desolate. Blue plastic Walmart shopping bags latched on to withered, but prickly cholla cactus. Some bags flapped in the frigid January breeze. Past Velarde the curved road that parallels the Rio Grande brought on a strange bout of dizziness. I had to find a place to pull the car over and regroup.  Find my balance. Stop the spin. Ice slowed the river’s course. When I closed my eyes, the river’s slower pace steadily slowed my own pace. A calm blanketed my overcharged emotions. The dizziness stopped. My balance returned. The spin ceased. I could now make my way home.

As I turned in to our long driveway through stands of apple trees, the strangeness of the day faded and returned to a place of comfort. Once inside I let the smell of pine logs overtake me. I tossed my purse on the sofa and followed suit with my body. On the coffee table aligned with the sofa was the distinctive feather from the solstice red hawk visit, rested in the wedding basket gifted by Navajo Jimmie. Was this the hawk’s message of change? Was the gifted feather a reminder to remain strong and bold like the hawk? Was there a choice?

From a work in progress, “Behind the Turquoise Gate: A California Girl’s New Mexico Memoir”

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