[This is, in part, written in reaction to Tsu’s thoughts on heavy birds; it seems that her experience of being a heavy bird and mine are quite different! There is no wrong way to experience being a bird, and this is not a critique – merely an account of a different take on the same subject.]
Goshawk is a raptor suited for long horizontal chases rather than the incredible plunge of a falcon or the endless circling of a buteo or buzzard. For that, she needs power – rather than a breathtaking sprinter or an endless marathoner, she’s a middle-distance charger, and her form backs up her function. Were it not for heavy legs and toes, she could not bind her prey; were it not for her long and relatively heavy tail, she could not turn so swiftly, or navigate the green corridors of her forest home. One of her hole cards is the ability to fold her wings, fan her tail, and gain lift from that instead; were the feathers not so strong, were her balance slightly different, that would never work. (1)
Goshawk is not a light bird. Yes, she still has hollow bones and her shape is still defined as much by airy feathers as the body beneath, but her strength, and her speed, come from her weight. Gravity is her ally, and her challenge.
As much as the wind lifts her, she must have something to struggle against in order to fly. She takes gravity’s never-ending pull and turns it to her advantage. A swallow, perhaps, or a hummingbird, might experience flight as a weightless, ecstatic motion; for goshawk it is an expression of her strength, the measure of her wings against the world. As much as the ground drags at her, it also gives her a way forward – without her weight, the motion of her wings would do little against the chaos of the winds. With her body as ballast and her tail as rudder, she streaks forward.
And when she has attained her height, even she may dive, though she is no peregrine to make a habit of such speed. Gravity calls; goshawk answers, and with her eyes fixed on her goal, need never fear falling.
In the wingless body I inhabit, my relationship to gravity is a bit more challenging. I fall, I cannot soar. What I can do is learn, like my hawk-self, to use it to my advantage. I’m grateful that my body will stand for such treatment, and consider it a privilege – in learning to move across the ground as goshawk moves across the sky, I have fallen many, many times.
I practiced martial arts for years. Illness stopped me, but I still want to return some day, as it was the art that taught me to be in my body, and to move. I’ve been practicing some of the same old exercises, regaining strength. I’ve been reading up on parkour, and practicing toward a few of its basic techniques, to make my movement more fluid, less stoppable by the challenges of the environment.
Goshawk’s wings are her primary mode of transport, and her strength comes in continually pushing back against gravity, using the barrier as her ally. My legs must be my transport instead, so I work on strength and flexibility, until going from crouch to leap to collect to recover is reflex, sure as the downstroke of her wings.
1. BBC video; the goshawk in the video is braceleted and being handled by a falconer.)