The Chiricahua mountains are the northernmost extension of the
great mother mountains of Mexico. They rise out of the Arizona desert as a verdant
mystery. On the east side is a deep canyon where I often hike, looking for wildlife and
This morning I saw a female peregrine falcon perched on a high
ledge about a mile up in the canyon. The bird looked regal. On the lower part of her face
I saw the Egyptian moustache, which is a distinctive feature of her species. After
stretching one pointed wing and then the other, she wailed out. I could see the morning
sun was causing her chest and throat to gleam with unspeakable whiteness.
The raptor looked out over the scattered trees growing on the talus slopes.
After she screamed again, her swift husband came sallying across the mountain valley. When
he flew out of the shadow of a cliff and into the bright sunlight, I thought of the words
in the Egyptian Book of the Dead which say, "This is how I entered the heart
of the mountain. I had wondrous dreams of bright hawks soaring through dark
corridors." My morning's magic bird was shaped like an elongated crossbow. His
shallow flapping movements sent undulating pulses down the length of his wings. His flight
was strong and direct as he went to the aerie on the side of the cliff.
I have seen peregrine falcons soar, swoop, and make enormous figure-eights in
the air. Sometimes they shut their wings as they go into an immense stoop. These handsome
birds can roll over and over in flight. At times they will dart so high into the sky they
can hardly be seen, then they will come back again to do a loop-the-loop in front of the
rhyolite cliffs. At the top of their arc, peregrines may momentarily fly upside down.
The peregrine is one of the fastest birds in the world. It hunts flying birds
and bats from high above, pausing momentarily, before making a few rapid wing beats. Then
it draws its wings towards its sides as it swoops down with the speed of a meteor to
thrust its sharp talons into the flesh of a flying songbird. If large, the prey will fall
to the ground where the falcon will retrieve it; but, if small, the peregrine will pluck
it out of the air. When the peregrine misses, it soars high into the air, then stoops down
Sometimes peregrines dive at unsuspecting birds then swerve away at the last
moment, missing them intentionally. Imagine, if you will, the sound of wind rushing
through falcon feathers, and the playful eye of the peregrine looking back at you just at
the moment you are entering that part of your life which is a lucky gift. Imagine that
same peregrine darting away into the blue sky to become one with the sun.
In the ancient world many spoke of an inner falcon that was as real as any
outward one. The Egyptians knew this theriomorphic sky god quite well; they called him
Horus and told many stories of his life atop the inner cliffs in the ethereal world of the
inner sun. They also told of Horus being reincarnated on earth as a kind of Christ figure.
Today, the Egyptian falcon still flies in the hearts of men and women. When we
experience in our chests the rush of shallow, forceful wing beats, it is the flight of
Horus, who is the divine son of the great god, Osiris. We call this inner stirring our
inspiration or courage. It comes to us from other worlds. As a gift. Our life is a mistake
if it fails to take into account both the outer and the inner falcon.
In his book, The Outermost House, Henry Beston tells of his deep
appreciation for how the otherness of wild animals is so magnificently expressed in
ancient art. Egyptian art, in particular, he believed, had the unique power "to
reach, understand, and portray the very psyche of animals." He believed these
peregrine falcons carved in granite on temple walls carried the souls of all hawks. To
Beston there is nothing human about these ancient birds; they are self-contained, and
aloof as they speak to us of a world more primary and intense than the world of man. Like
the falcons that fly in my heart and the falcons of the unscalable cliffs in Cave Creek
Canyon, these ancient icons are terrifying and beautiful.
Today, I join forces with a million ancient voices and salute my non-human
neighbors who live at the interface between sky and earth as they unite the above with the
below. The peregrine is to me what the burning bush was to Moses, a window into the
The word, "peregrine" means wanderer, and peregrine falcons do,
indeed, stray wherever they will. They gallivant in Egypt; in Arizona, in Canada, in
China, in Europe, and in unnamed places no man has ever visited. Every spring and summer a
few of these wandering fragments of the World Soul go to a deep canyon in the mountains of
southeastern Arizona. And I--a wanderer of a different species--migrate there, too.
As I traipse through fields of wild flowers and listen to singing birds, I am
constantly aware that, above me, in the unspeakable heavens, the seldom-seen falcons are
wandering too. I live my life in the reflected image in the Eye of Horus. If the falcons
did not gaze at me I think I would cease to exist. If their swift shadow did not cross my
path, I think I would fall into a terrible illness.
These birds are inscrutable and unknowable, they are fierce and distant. In the
most secret parts of my soul I want to be like just them. I want blood and ch'i to flow
through me as it does through the splendid body of the awesome wanderer.
Every year I find myself becoming more and more intoxicated by the wild beauty
of the earth. On long summer afternoons I dream the canyon. I think of the falcons, and
smile. The peregrine is that part of my soul that does not live within the bag of my skin.
It is forever a pilgrim in wild and unexplored lands. It is the me that is not me.