The Serendipity of Watching Death

by Tara Aal

I’ve always turned away at the sound of ripping flesh, the sight of broken necks and blood-stained fur. I wanted to save the weak doe from the pack of wolves. I could not get past my feelings to appreciate the beauty of the feast –The death sacrificed for life. Birds changed my perception. If we are open, nature teaches us to embrace death and celebrate life.

As I get older, I find birds everywhere. I see hawks and bald eagles perched and flying overhead. A giant bald eagle dove in front of my windshield on my way to work. A hawk swooped across my windshield on my way shopping. A lovely white dove was oddly standing in the road, seemingly oblivious to where she was; I was careful not to hit her, but saw her smashed by the following car in my rear-view mirror.

In my childhood, a hawk flew backward as our car moved forward on the freeway, up close to our windshield, looking straight at me while Dad drove us to church. I remember a band of little birds flying over my head in the schoolyard and feeling a strange sensation as their feet moved through my hair, touching my scalp. As a child, birds fascinated and scared me and they’ve always captured my attention.

It was a warm day in Kona; just a couple days into our trip. I was reading a book by the pool, watching Myna birds fly back and forth under the sun. The timeshare host told us a Hawaiian Hawk had made its kill right around the corner of the building! I ran through the grass and slowly crept around the corner. He was magnificent! His feathers were grayish dark brown, white and warm honey. His breast was snowy white along with his powerful legs. His eyes were encircled with yellow. Hawaiian HawkHis beak was bright, bold yellow and spotted with crimson blood and flesh as he ripped apart the little bird. I started taking photos, slowly getting closer until I was on my stomach in the grass about five feet from him. Live claw was grasping dead claw; bits of flesh flying around a bed of feathers; feathers long, strong and stiff and feathers soft and light, like silk. Black feathers with white tips, black, white, gray and brown feathers spread all around him — Ripped from their home.

The great hawk looked straight into my eyes. I felt his power and purity at the same time. For the first time, I accepted the kill, raw and instinctual. I felt equal respect for both predator and prey. Watching the hawk, I understood deep inside that death was always necessary to keep living. For the hawk, he must eat to survive; he was created to do this and there is no badness or goodness to consider. We humans must let outgrown ways and beliefs die so that new forms of thinking, feeling and being can be born. We have to let go to move forward.

The timeshare host said she hadn’t seen a Hawaiian Hawk perch within close distance in the last 22 years and that they aren’t commonly seen in flight. I am humbled by the Hawaiian Hawk’s presence and by how many years it’s taken me to truly understand and accept this wisdom of nature. As I watched and heard him tearing through the guts of that little bird, symbolically I knew he was challenging me to dig into the bowels of my own life, to let go of all that needs to die in order to make room for new life.

The hawk helped me to understand that my struggle to accept death in nature was directly tied to my fear of letting go in my own life. Attempting to save something or someone can lead to a greater death, destroying the opportunity for balance and rebirth. In the 30 minutes I watched the hawk eating, I was visually engrossed in the blood and guts of life — The courage to embrace death to meet the fullness of life.

Birds in nature teach us to pay attention, to expand our vision to see the bigger picture. They teach us to fly out of and above our bounds so we can be free. They show us that death is a true blessing when we transform through it into a fuller life.


Photo by the author, Tara Aal.