Last summer I had the privilege of joining an amazing writing community--17 including kitchen staff, biologist and writing guru and followers--for an annual conference event called Fishtrap. Our distinction as a group was in being the ones courageous enough to travel outside of Joseph, Oregon to the Outpost on Nature Conservancy property called the Zumwalt Prairie. Others camp and write in the state park in town. We came together daily to be challenged and encouraged, to experience the prairie and to write about it, hear others' work and read aloud our own. It is on the prairie I saw my first Nighthawk--a small owl-like bird known for its twice-daily feeding ritual of flight and sound and astounding aerodynamics.
I was a couple of years into my own exploration of native wisdom and had just returned from my second year at an intentional community in New Mexico where I spent a week with a Peruvian-born, Lakota-trained shaman who taught us about the meaning of animals intersecting our lives--in dreams and real life. There is the science of how and why Nighthawks fly--mating, protecting the nest, warding off intruders, and there's a more spiritual message.
It took a few days on the prairie for one of the writers-in-residence to admit that since arriving her nights were spent lingering in the swooshing and diving of the Nighthawks around her tent. As a city dweller all she had were the bats rhythmic hunt to mimic what she experienced on the prairie. Nighthawks are often mistaken for bats; they fly at tree level but then they dive making a whooshing sound, gobbling insects in their large mouths on their descent, able to pull out of a dive at the last minute causing an unexpected, unexplainable boom.
The Nighthawk conversation took place with most of the residents at the picnic table after dinner on an evening late in the week. I listened to the group debate the nature of the bird's motives, but no one ever wondered if on the Zumwalt, where the stars are bright, the frequency might be just right to receive messages from Spirit through the appearance of the Nighthawk. If you doubt such a thing, check out what one spiritual writer says about the connection between creatives and the message of the Nighthawk. I was flabbergasted a group of creatives hadn't even considered something more than science to explain the phenomenon.
In retrospect, it is likely the poor bird was trying to keep our tents and wanderings from destroying its home, which was likely on the ground nearby. However I am not opposed to taking other signs, especially when I pray for guidance in how I deal with predictable rough spots in my life. My ancestors would have made a prayerful request for guidance, and then waited patiently to hear the answers (through dreams and encounters with other relations that crossed their path). I'm not opposed to taking in the message a Nighthawk might bring as a sign my prayers are being heard, and confirmation that I am fine.
Fun factoids about Nighthawks:
- Fossils of Nighthawks, up to about 400,000 years old, have been unearthed between Virginia and California and from Wyoming to Texas.
- Migrating Nighthawks have been recorded as far away as Iceland, Greenland, the Azores, the Faroe Islands, and multiple times on the British Isles, thousands of miles from their nesting sites.