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Sheep Are Many, Wolves Are Few


From the hidden vantage point of the thicket just downwind of the herd, Lobo watches at dusk. His greenish-yellow eyes seem to smile. One of the yearling lambs is not staying with the herd. Even without the pack at his side, Lobo sees this one is easy to pick off. Circling at the clearing's edge, Lobo intercepts and closes. One snap snuffs out even the last frightened bleat, and it is all over. Lobo drags dinner off to a more secluded spot. The herd of sheep, now alarmed, runs fifty yards up the meadow and stops for the night. It was the lamb's time. These things happen, and the herd goes on.

Kyrie the hawk circles impatiently, four hundred feet above the crest of the hills, dipping a wing imperceptibly to stay within the updraft. Below, field mice are playing in the sun near a burrow, and no creature looks up into the sun to see if anything is there. Kyrie is careful to steer his shadow well away from the tiny rodents below, for he knows from experience that once the sky is blackened with his descending shadow, they will all scatter and be gone. One of them, he sees, has found an interesting cereal grain behind a rock outcropping, which cuts off direct retreat to the burrow. It is worth trading altitude for a better look. Kyrie dips the pinion feathers of one wing and wheels into a sudden banking dive. At eighty miles per hour the valley floor rushes up to meet him, and, with a sudden twisting turn, his shadow seems to blacken the whole sky. But it is too late for our little friend nibbling on the grain. Steel talons rip through the tiny, unstruggling form and loft it, lifeless, high above into the sun and sky. Brother and sister mice have retreated to their burrows, squeaking in horror and indignation, but the event itself was past before they even dashed for safety. There are many mice, and much grain to store; life goes on.

Leo, a territorial predator, accelerates smoothly through a pack of terrified small migratory species, which part like the waters for Moses in the hope that, this time, each of them will be spared. But Leo has already targeted his prey, and speeds soundlessly past after a lone brown and tan stray; the pack regroups and continues on its uninterrupted way. The brown and tan victim, abandoned to its fate now, awaits motionless and without hope as Leo advances warily alongside. The air is hot and electrifyingly tense, punctuated by a rasping static hiss. Leo sees flashing blue and white reflected in the pupils of the target's eyes now, and, as if to make this easier, coughs and clears his throat. "Excuse me, ma'am, you were speeding. May I see your driver's license, please?" The pack moves on, exactly as if one of its number had never been taken.

© Alex Forbes, La Parola December 1993


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