(1970- / Fort Dix, New Jersey)

The Forest Floor

As you take a step forward on the forest floor, you hear and feel the dry pine needles crinkle under your boot and they sound well, for being dead. You look down at the sound and wonder how many infinitely small things or worlds or lives may have just been created or destroyed under the boot. Then you squat down and now you are lying down because you decide this is as good a spot as any. But you are very afraid.
You hear the frantic noises that sound like someone angry, someone scared, and someone nearly dead. The noises cause your eyes to traverse up and to your left and they track and focus until they join your ears on the three birds and you can see that actually the woodpecker chick is not dead yet. The hawk is fleeing fast and silent now while trying to hold on to her intended dinner. She seems surprisingly afraid but holds on to the chick as best as she can and you figure that makes her brave because she does not let her fear control her actions. You admire her bravery.
But the woodpecker rooster is on her fast screaming and diving and charging and taunting. He persists and the hawk increases speed. The chick is wriggling violently in her grasp. You watch the hawk’s confusion and fear and her nervous and loosely gripped talons and see that she somehow drops the chick. The chick tumbles forward and hits the ground rolling like a static line jumper and you remember for a second exactly what that feels like. The rooster is still in pursuit not processing quickly enough what has happened and that his youngest son is free. You see him finally realize and bank left and dive incredibly fast. He lands near his son on the dead pine needles on the forest floor not far from where you lay and hops over to him while scanning nervously for the hawk. The rooster finds the chick lying alive but injured, afraid, and weak. He tells his son not to worry because the hawk is gone. He tells him all is well because his father is there. The rooster is now faced with the new problem of how to get a chick that cannot fly from the ground back into the nest, which had proven unsafe a moment ago but must certainly be safer than the forest floor.
You witness the entire four-second event and wonder what a hawk might ever have to fear from a woodpecker one sixth or seventh his size. With that you realize that credit must be given to the rooster for boldness of attitude. You begin to feel just a hint of confidence. Then you see the first soldier coming slowly and cautiously and two more behind him. Your only comfort is the fact that if a mere woodpecker rooster can face a hungry red tail hawk in defense of another and a wounded and captured chick can actually break free from that same hawk’s talons, then maybe you do have a fighting chance. You take aim on the furthest one back that you can see and rest your finger lightly on the trigger. You affirm to succeed and remind yourself that you never know how things might turn out. Sometimes if the chick is really brave and does not quit, if he fights hard and does not surrender, the hawk might become afraid and sometimes the hawk will actually dropp the chick. Except this time you are alone on the forest floor for the very first time. The rest of the squad is dead and there is no rooster to help. You see the soldiers getting closer…

by Sidney P. Roberts II

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