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A red-tailed hawk pauses while looking for an easy meal along the bank of a canal, Thursday, December 19, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La.

A couple of weekends ago, I found the fabric cover of our barbecue grill loose and crumpled on the patio, something that couldn’t have happened by itself. Maybe a burglar had come to look the grill over but decided it was too rusty to cart off. But I also wondered if a possum had crawled beneath the barbecue to escape the cold, dislodging the cover as he left.

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I had found a possum under the grill cover last year, which surprised us both. Slipping off the cover to cook some burgers, I discovered our visitor curled beside the lid. He wasn’t happy, of course, that I had disturbed his sleep, staring at me like a drunk startled off his park bench. He was a young possum in the bloom of adolescence, and since he was in no hurry to surrender his spot, I fetched a broom from the kitchen to nudge him along. Grudgingly, he climbed down one of the grill’s iron legs and waddled into the bushes, the shrubbery concealing him as quickly as a trapdoor. It made me think, as I often do, of the other wild things in secret places all around me — creatures who come to the surface of my awareness from time to time, reminding me that even a suburban yard can be a colony of the unexpected.

One recent morning, while tending a rubber cattle trough we use as a water garden, I noticed one of our goldfish on the ground nearby, still gasping for life. He revived when I dumped him back in the water, but I knew he hadn’t gone so far afield himself.

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The likely culprit arrived a few days later as I was at my laptop in the dining room. Looking up from a paragraph, I spotted a red-tailed hawk atop our Drake elm. He was a couple of feet tall, his wingspan no doubt even larger when he silently glided, grand as an archangel, across the yard to perch on the rim of the cattle trough.

I cracked open the patio door to sneak a picture, which says a lot about how years with a smartphone have trained me to think — or not to think. I was more interested in getting a picture of my hawk poaching fish than in saving the fish.

The hawk, sensing my presence, flew off without any lunch, and I was left without a snapshot, too. My only record of the raptor’s visit is this story I’m sharing, something I’ll mentally file as a tale of a winter now fading from view.

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In winter, these modest backyard dramas seem easier to notice, since the season is so quiet that even small rustlings can register as news.

Spring, with its bright pageant of distractions, is a busier time, but it brings its own rewards. I’m looking forward to grilling more, though I’ll keep my broom handy in case it’s needed.


Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.