I lived in Montana for two years on a heavily wooded 22 acres above the Yellowstone River valley. There were bird nests in the Ponderorsa pines surrounding my home for Golden and Bald Eagles, and Red Tail Hawks. When I left the property for a semi-cross country drive to relocate with my eldest son back to California, I placed the most beautiful Red Tail Hawk feather on the dashboard of my Subaru Loyale.
It was July, so the time on the road was hot, but instead of the stale AC, I rolled the windows all the way down. It was kinda fun to have the air swirling through the car for some amusement on those long straight roads. I was amazed how the feather stayed on the dashboard without blowing off or even out of the car window! This phenomena kept my road weary interest as I was determined to keep the windows down the whole way as some sort of dare. The Red Tail Hawk feather and us made it all the way to the Pacific Coast.
I had one foot in San Clemente and one in Marin County, before deciding on where to set our new roots. I was temping in Costa Mesa for a few weeks to get on our feet again and I would always leave the windowless cold AC filled work building for lunch in my car. I would pull away from the building out to the ends of the parking lot where there were a line junipers. It was usually hot and of course, I had my windows all the way down. On this particular still air day, I noticed a few hawks in the blue sky. I was surprised to see those birds in the cityscape, which I hadn’t seen before at lunch, but smiled at their presence.
I parked, unwrapped my sandwich and turned on the radio, which was usually uninspiring, except I soon noticed that there were a string of deep album cuts from the Grateful Dead. I imagined something special was going on, I never recalled the Grateful Dead being radio friendly, especially in Orange County. My excitement of wondering what big event was taking place, quickly became concern over some serious news.
When Stella Blue ended, a song always equated specifically to Jerry Garcia, a listener call-in voice came on the air and simply said, “It is like as a kid, hearing that Peter Pan died. A part of my youth has passed away today”. At that exact moment, I felt something brush my hand, and the Red Tail Hawk feather had landed on my lap. I knew that Jerry Garcia had died.
I moved with my son to Marin County in the following weeks along with the feather placed back upon the dashboard, as some sort of memento to our right of passage and new life. We would often take the long winding roads that wrapped around Mt. Tamalpais from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. Having the windows down was a treat to take in the unique aroma of passing Redwood forests.
Then one day, without any warning, the Red Tail Hawk feather was pick up by a perfect draft of air and flew out the window and up the mountain side. I stopped and watched it as it kept rising and disappearing from sight. I thought of trying to go find it, but it made perfect sense for it to return home, where there are hawks, once home to Jerry Garcia, and now our new home. The Red Tail Hawk feather will always remind me of what a long strange trip it has been.