[Guest post by Benjamin Vogt]
I’m a big believer in luck. And by that I mean serendipity. And by that I mean fate. This is why I think that every email could be “the one,” or every telephone ring, or each envelope in the mailbox. Today, I was simply going to the kitchen to get a glass of water when I saw a whirlwind streak of brown and white outside the sliding porch door. Fate.
A sharp-shinned hawk had just landed atop a 6’ arborvitae in my garden. Two winters ago I witnessed another hawk nab a junco at the base of this shrub and make a clean kill. Although I was only ten feet away from the hawk today, I grabbed my 300mm zoom lens and started snapping pictures. A hawk! A small hawk, but a hawk here in my humble suburban garden.
There are moments in our lives when several trajectories intersect, tossed out from a common beginning, arcing wildly into life until they cross paths—like an asteroid and a planet. Four years ago when I began my 1,500 foot prairie garden I didn’t know a thing about growing plants. When I discovered butterfly larvae I was transfixed for weeks, puzzling together soil, plant, light, and insect as I crawled around on hands and knees after dinner until dusk.
The sharp-shinned hawk perched on the arborvitae and for several minutes looked down at the ground. Had he dropped his catch, lost it in the brush? Was he hurt? He took off, circled the shrub, landed on it like some infuriated snowflake. He took off again, landed on the sedum next to it, took off and landed on the birdfeeder, the heated bird bath, the serviceberry, the fence, and then was gone. How could I piece this together?
Stepping outside to investigate I spooked a dozen juncos who all scattered from the arborvitae. That’s what the hawk was after. On the deck I found a tree sparrow, hunkered down, blinking slowly, breathing fast, feathers around it. That’s what the hawk almost caught.
Without the garden we would have not met. And with not cutting anything down, the birds come—all kinds of birds. Shelter, freedom, refuge, food, opportunity. And for me, joy and wonder unmatched by almost any song or book. The sparrow soon recovered and flew off. I’ve yet to come down.
[Benjamin Vogt has a 2,000 foot garden on a 10,000 foot lot in Nebraska (zone 5). Roughly 80% of his plants are native to either the Midwest or Great Plains. He is the author of SLEEP, CREEP, LEAP: THE FIRST THREE YEARS OF A NEBRASKA GARDEN. He has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and an M.F.A. from The Ohio State University. He blogs / rants about writing and gardening at The Deep Middle. You can also find him at Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens]
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