Friday, March 16, 2012

Brain Droppings: The "Familiar"

The term, familiar, like many words in the English language, has more than one meaning. Of course, the most common one refers to things that are easily recognizable to us, i.e. "I know him. He is familiar to me". This is the adjective. However, there is another meaning. This one is a noun and it comes to us from the mythology of the Middle Ages. In this case, familiar refers to a spirit guide, usually in the form of an animal, sent to provide us with a helping hand (or paw, or claw, or hove) in our everyday lives. According to the myth everyone has at least one familiar.

I KNOW that I have one for sure; Big Red, my ageless (17+) cat. Those of you who follow this blog know of Big Red because I have written of him often. He climbed in an open bedroom window of a long gone apartment and, despite my early efforts to get him the hell out of the place, he has been with me ever since. And he has been an inspiration to me every day of his life. He is everything that I am not: even tempered, and unflappable. He teaches me to accept life on its terms and to relish ALL things, good and bad, as part of the fabric of a life well lived. But we also share the similar traits of being very vocal (he "talks" constantly) and exceedingly good natured - he likes being with people. Still, when necessary, he (we) can be quite stoic. Simply put, he has made my life immeasurably better. Now THAT'S a Spirit Guide!

But I think that I have another, less obvious familiar. And that is the Red Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensus). The Red Tailed Hawk is a large bird of prey and one of the most common in the US. It is also know as the Chicken Hawk, even though it rarely preys on chickens! It feeds mostly on rodents and other small mammals. They are very adaptable and their range includes a variety of habitats, including the canyons created by the skyscrapers of New York City. Many of you have probably read the exploits of NYC's most famous Red Tale, Pale Male, who resides on the ledge of one of the City's most tony residences. Quite a flap was created when the occupants of the building tried to have his nest removed from one of their balconies! Red Tales mate for life and will only seek another if their partner dies.

Perhaps, because of the very mild winter that we have had, causing an abundance of prey, I have seen them EVERYWHERE! Our backyard borders a State park with the cliffs of the Palisades as a backdrop. This, of course, is perfect habitat for them and I see (and HEAR them - SCREECH - SCREECH - SCREECH) regularly as they soar among the cliffs, usually searching for prey. I also see them interact with one another as the males perform an elaborate mid-air mating ritual that involves spectacular dives and intricate roll overs. It is awesome to watch. Considering the terrain, one would expect to see them here. However, as I said, I see them virtually EVERYWHERE. When I drive to work along the Palisades Interstate Parkway, I see them roosting in the tree tops, stoically and fiercely observing their territory. I have also had them actually swoop down in front of my car as they dive to attack prey on the grassy medium that separates the highway. Sometimes, they dive so closely to the car that I am amazed that I haven't hit one (I have a friend who actually did - scared the hell out of him and killed the hawk!). But I have also seen them in the most unlikely places as well. I see one all of the time roosting on a light post above 79th St. and the West Side Highway!

But why do I see them so regularly. My wife, Cat, is amazed that, when we drive together, suddenly, out of nowhere, I'll point and say, "look, there's a Red Tail"! Cat will say, "Really? Where? How did you see that"? I don't know how to really explain it. As a photographer, I am always observing things. That is my life. This explains part of the reason, but not the entire. They are big, but not THAT big. They are common, but not THAT common. So, why do I observe them all of the time? I don't actively think about it but, suddenly, while driving, I'll get an urge to look up - left or right - and, sure enough, there's a Red Tail to be seen. Why does this happen at that particular time and place? I believe it is because they are another of my familiars. They were sent here to guide me to a higher spiritual awareness. They are guiding me to be keen, to be aware, to be loyal, to be stoic and to be fierce about it. Their huge eyes, designed to see small things from very far away, urge me to be observant of everything around me. Their mating habits teach me to be loyal and steadfast. Their razor sharp beaks and talons encourage me to be formidable. Their unflinching gaze teaches me to see things for what they are. Their patience exemplifies stoicism. Their flight urges my heart to soar. All of these things I desire for my life and I can have them with the help of my familiar; The Red Tailed Hawk!

Look for yours. You will find them - if you open your eyes, your minds, and your hearts.

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