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The hawk didn't note the freeway

Dec 9, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

Musing on the realities of life in the predawn of a foreign city coming to life is worth considering if you find yourself on the road with a few minutes to spend.

I stood on the second level of a parking garage overlooking Denver, waiting for the sun to rise. Contemplating eternity is a practice best done in the early hours of the morning or perhaps in the wee hours of the evening.

The sky to the east was dark initially, but the glow of an early December sun began to light the eastern horizon. Long before the surrounding area came into view the contrails of dozens of "red eye" flights arriving and departing from Denver International Airport could be seen in the sky some 20 miles distant.

I hate cities -- the noise, the congestion, the endless lines, the waiting and the masses of people. The industries that produce the things we need out in the hinterland make them a necessity, but if they can be avoided, count me in.

This was a rare morning in early winter in the foothills of the southern Rockies. The weather was surprisingly mild for a day sliding toward the winter solstice. A growing west wind was an omen of a winter storm predicted for later in the day, but that possibility seemed eons away.

As we travel across the United States, the signs of progress and degradation are evident from community to community. Many small towns of the Midwest and intermountain region slip into disrepair, and distant memories of what once was fade as their youth depart, never to return, for futures elsewhere.

Cities seem always to be under construction, with buildings erected less than two decades ago razed and rebuilt in someone's recurring dream of prosperity.

Amid the cycles of death and rebirth it's easy to make the jump from municipality to individuality. People and cities live on the same plane of existence. The vibrancy and promise of youth gradually moving into the realities of middle age and the inevitability of mortality are as irresistible as gravity.

How we handle this process reveals much about our character. Some age gracefully and make wise decisions on the path, while others seem to do everything wrong. Their final years are the stuff of tragedy.

Musing on the realities of life and death in the predawn of a foreign city slowly coming to life is worth considering if you find yourself on the road with a few minutes to spend.

Denver moved to 23rd among American cities in the last census. A few hundred people still separate the Mile High City from Boston, Seattle and Washington, D.C., but the trend is clear. Americans are leaving the rust belt and heading to the West and Southwest.

San Antonio, Phoenix and Albuquerque are among the fasting-growing cities in the U.S, with Denver, Salt Lake City, Santa Fe and Amarillo not far behind.

Demographic trends didn't matter to the rough-legged hawk I spotted high above a neighboring high rise that calm morning in Colorado.

As he hunted the expanse of a vacant, several-hundred-acre field, the thought of how this area looked two centuries ago before the arrival of permanent human occupation came to mind. Wherever we travel, I enjoy imagining what areas looked like before people began building permanent structures.

In the case of eastern cities, it's easy to visualize the slopes of hills descending into wide, powerful rivers without all the concrete and steel lining the banks.

In our area of the world, just think of endless sagebrush broken up by lines of cottonwoods following the streams, wadis and hidden aquifers.

You can see Wyoming as it was when the Arapaho, Shoshone, Crow, Cheyenne and Kiowa were the only people here.

Many authors have compared highways and railways to the human circulatory system. The endless stream of headlights traveling frantically in all directions around my location could be the corpuscles of metropolitan Denver. Each vehicle carried someone to a job with a key function in the livelihood of the city, just as a single red blood cell does for an individual.

I watched the hawk and his effortless flight amidst the changing wind currents created by the stiffening breeze whirling through the multi-story buildings surrounding his hunting area. He didn't care about the garbage trucks making their daily runs, or the light rail crews manning the trains for their daily routes.

All he cared about was the sudden, almost hidden movements or a rodent somewhere far below.

He circled 200 feet above the ground for about 10 minutes. As the shadows receded from the advancing sunrise, he widened his pattern, waiting patiently for the sun to reveal breakfast far below.

It's a metaphor we could all live with -- just waiting for the patterns of life to reveal our next step and taking that opportunity when it arrives.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator.

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