Running with raptors

It’s been a little over two years now that I’ve noticed I see many a raptor when I’m out running solo. In late 2017 I started hitting the trails a lot in preparation for the Bandera 50k. I put in a lot of miles in the Circle C trails and recall a few times when I’d scare up a hawk who was eating or hunting mice or snakes. I remember, very vividly, when I circumnavigated Lake Georgetown on a cold and wet November morning. I was probably two-thirds the way around the 26-mile trail and I found myself in a flat clearing. I was going through a rough patch so I reached into my bag to get something to eat. As I kept slogging along, eating whatever sugar-laden sport food I’d pulled out, I heard that distinct hawk scream that one would ordinarily expect to hear reverberating off of a canyon wall somewhere in the desolate southwest. I was next to a lake in Central Texas where there aren’t any buttes or canyons, but that hawk scream had that same echoing and startling effect. It jolted me back to life.

I think I had some kind of epiphany that morning. The raptor is my running spirit animal. And I’ve seen them many times ever since. Enough that I can’t recount exact encounters anymore. The majority of which have been hawks. I think what makes this interesting, to me at least, is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many hawks in all my life. It’s a reminder that you have to get out there in nature to experience these things. It’s also a reminder that the hawks are out there for a reason. When you’re on the trails alone, you’re not running or hiking among other people on foot or on bikes or in cars. You’re in nature amongst other creatures. I’d venture to assume that many of them are unassuming and relatively harmless to a human, but then there are also venomous snakes out there with you as well. I’ve run up on a huge rattlesnake crossing a single track in the neighborhood trails once last Spring. Thankfully I saw it (granted it was hard to miss because it took up the entire trail as it crossed) and was able to stop in time to admire it, and then long enough to let the endorphins kick in and have instincts remind me that that thing could make for a very harrowing life experience in nature.

I love knowing that there’s a possibility that I could experience a raptor while I’m out on a run. It’s a reminder to look up frequently. Running trails is a lot different from running on the roads in that you have to be very aware of your immediate future in space. Every footfall matters and you’re constantly having to plan your next ten footfalls by constantly surveying the ground. In those fleeting moments when terra firma is smooth, I remind myself to look up. There might be a raptor.

My current training plan called for a 10-mile run this morning. The alarm jolted me out of bed a bit before 4:30 a.m. and I was on the road by 5. I ran an out-and-back on Escarpment. Almost at mile 7 I stopped to turn around. I saw a little animal lying in the road. As I got closer I noticed it was a little screech owl. Its eyes were still open, but it didn’t react to me. It was so beautiful, but it was also so dead. I remember its yellow eyes looking like those of the glass variety that they use for children’s stuff animals. It looked just like a little cute stuffed animal that Mara would carry around with her.

I started my watch again and jumped back into my pace for the rest of the run home. A mile and a half later I stopped again when I came upon another little dead screech owl in the road.

I don’t know what it means to happen upon two dead owls within minutes of each other. I’m erring on the side of rare coincidence.