The Red-Shouldered Hawk on the Anxiety Walk

The Red-Shouldered Hawk on the Anxiety Walk January 17, 2023

a red-shouldered hawk perched in a tree
image via pixabay

I was on my daily Anxiety Walk, when I saw the hawk again.

The Anxiety Walk is a regular feature in January. The lack of sunlight, color and things to do wreaks havoc with my mental health struggles. I have to drop what I’m doing and get away from the computer or I’ll go down a black hole, googling questions I already know the answer to for an hour at a time, trying to reassure myself but only terrorizing myself in the process. Sometimes I will clean the kitchen or organize the spice rack just to use up the nervous energy. Every day at least once I go for a walk around LaBelle, stimming with my hands, taking deep breaths, looking for interesting things to stare at. It does help. Not enough, but it helps.

On Sunday, it was eerily bright for January. The world wasn’t gray on gray but gray on blue, with the sky a deep clear cerulean overhead. It was nearly warm in the sun and freezing cold in the shade: wherever the light didn’t touch, there were tufts of old snow or puddles frozen into paper-thin ice. Wherever there was sunshine, you’d have thought it was early spring.  I went for my anxiety walk, stimming and fretting, nearly sprinting past the menacing neighbor’s house, though she still hasn’t bothered us since last May. I went up to the nicer neighborhood where I had seen the small hawk dive at the pigeons the other day, hoping to see the birds again, but they were gone.

I walked for half an hour before I saw another bird of prey, much larger than the one I’d seen before.

A lot of the blocks running east to west from La Belle View have been robbed of their venerable old trees, thanks to the electric company. But this street has some great big plane trees that haven’t been cut. There was an unusually large bird in the very biggest tree:  about halfway between the size of a duck and the size of a goose. Something about the shape and the whiteness of the belly reminded me of Owl from Winnie-the-Pooh, and for a second I thought he was one of those ugly owl decoys people put on buildings to scare away pest birds. But why would anyone balance one of those on a tree branch, higher up than a two-story building?

I went down the street to get a closer look.

That’s a block I usually avoid if I’m going for a fast stimming walk. The houses are in such bad repair I don’t like to look at them. The great trees have broken up the sidewalks so it’s an obstacle course rather than a thoroughfare. Parked along the sidewalk are pickup trucks sporting ominous bumper stickers with phrases like “I’m hunting liberals!” and pictures of gun and Confederate flags, so I don’t think I’d be in much luck if I did turn my ankle and had to cry for help. But this time I ventured down the broken concrete.

As I walked toward the tree, I expected the bird to disappear. I thought I’d come closer and closer and find that it was really nothing but a bird-shaped strip of bark, or a child’s balloon stuck tangled on a branch. But it remained. As I got especially close, I saw the head– not an owl’s head at all, but a hawk’s. I could just make out the businesslike curve of his beak. He was constantly swiveling the tiny head back and forth, on the lookout.  His belly feathers were white down with brown stripes, and his back feathers were a different brown. The tail came to a knifelike point below the branch. He looked much bigger than the hawk that had gone after the pigeons the other day.

I ran home and got my phone. “There’s a great big bird in the tree!” I told Adrienne, who was playing a video game. “I thought it was one of those fake owl decoys, but then it moved.”

“I bet it was a branch,” said Adrienne without looking up.

“No, it was definitely a hawk or a falcon,” I insisted. “It was swiveling it’s head around. It was gigantic.”

“It was a branch,” said Adrienne.

“O ye of little faith,” I retorted, grabbing my phone.

“O ye of branches.”
I left the eleven-year-old to play her game, and ran back out. I was afraid the hawk would have moved again, but there he was in the same place, still keeping watch over LaBelle. I walked all the way around the block, taking photos from different vantage points. Then I ran home and showed them to Adrienne. I put them on Twitter to see if anybody could identify the bird. People chimed in with guesses: a hawk, a falcon, perhaps an osprey. For just a moment I forgot the torment of OCD and anxiety. I was too busy to be anxious. I was researching all there was to know about raptors in the state of Ohio, and I was fascinated.
Then the anxiety crashed again. The panic came back. Michael and Adrienne took a late ride to church while I had a miserable lie-down upstairs.
This morning I woke up with fear gnawing on my stomach, colder than ice. I drank coffee instead of breakfast. I paced around stimming to calm myself, and then I went for my Anxiety Walk again.
Again, the sky was a vibrant eerie blue. Again, it was warm in the sun and freezing cold in the shade. Again, I turned down the cracked and dangerous street to try and see the hawk. At first I thought he wasn’t there, but then I heard him: a series of scratchy squawks, like a crow’s cry in a different register.
I followed the sound to a different branch of the tree. The hawk was there, singing.
I managed to take a video of his song.
I ran back home to get the wifi, and I put the video online to see if anyone could identify the bird. I googled and listened to video after video of common hawks vocalizing, but none seemed exactly right. At last, someone found it for me: the bird was a red-shouldered hawk.
I nearly hugged myself with joy. I had found a red-shouldered hawk, right here in LaBelle.
I felt much better for hours. Eventually the panic came back, but I’d gotten a reprieve.
I’m not saying you should get off your medication or stop seeing your therapist. But one of the best makeshift home remedies for anxiety disorders that I’ve ever found is nature, and another is learning about things.
I’m so glad to know that remedy still works.

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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