Cycling into Bigtown yesterday I found myself trailing behind a bird of prey – I never got quite a good enough look at it to be sure but I think it was probably a sparrowhawk. It was flying low, low enough to skim the surface of the road, following each undulation as if it was tethered to its shadow. Every so often it would flick itself upwards and over the dyke, probably hoping to catch some small bird unawares, using the road as its secret passageway between the fields. It was fast – faster than I could pedal – and had it not paused every so often, perching up on a gate post almost as if it was waiting for me, I would never have caught it up. As it was I found myself cranking to keep up with it for well over a mile, caught up in the wonder of the moment, and hoping desperately that no car would come roaring along towards us.*
I was reminded of it again this morning, sweeping home from the papershop with the wind behind me. Some days when the wind takes you and the road turns downhill, you just fly – adjusting your weight a little here, tilting a knee out a little there, to keep the bike on course without resorting to the brakes. And I wondered whether somewhere deep in that bird’s brain as it scythed along the road there was something of the same satisfaction I was feeling, alive in that moment. Doing something and doing it well, perfectly in control, swift and silent and sure.
* I don’t know if this is a normal sparrowhawk tactic, but on a busier road (and by busier I mean one with more than one car an hour on it) it must surely be a risky one. I hope that its reflexes and eyesight are as good as they say they are – good enough that it can get out of the way of any oncoming cars. I really don’t want to come across a sad pile of feathers on the road, all that remains of a bird that had given me such a glorious show.