THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS VOLUME XX NUMBER 3 Spring 2005
  
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The Welcome by Hawk Flight

The Welcome by Hawk Flight
A Southern writer finds New England

Keene State's 2004-05 writer-in-residence examined her impressions of New England last fall for Keene State Today. Janisse and her husband Raven have now become residents of Brattleboro, Vermont. She is the author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood.

Since I arrived in New England a few months ago, I have been in utter awe at the landscape. We have come from the hot flatlands of southern Georgia, native to me, whose tragedies and pleasures are intimate to us. Now, down beautiful country roads we drive, slowly, up and down hills, through the northern deciduous forest, alongside fields of corn and hillsides of goldenrod, gazing around at this new country.

Janisse Ray photo by Raven Burchard The charm and imagination of the region makes me ache with a strange mixture of gratitude and sadness – gratefulness for an emphasis here on quality of life and grief that so much of my homeland looks very different. The South has been whittling down its forests, and chain stores replicate themselves town to town.

Whatever singular essence the South once had – as this region does with the smell of haying and speckled jewels hanging thick on the jewelweed – is vanishing. From what I see, New England has kept its history, its unique character, its local businesses, its culture. Centuries-old stone fences wind through the woods.

Photo: cover of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood What will this land become to me? What will I learn from it? Can it be home?

These were the questions in my mind the golden fall morning that we climbed Mount Monadnock. We hiked through maple and beech and birch, through glens alive with ferns; we scrambled across boulders, following a strange trail. At Monte Rosa, a bald just shy of the summit, we came out upon a jumble of fat, cold rocks. Sumacs dangled their clumps of berries, and withered huckleberries clung late to the low stiff bushes. Mica glittered in the granite. Raven sat and drew a miniature landscape on a scrap of birchbark, a picture of me looking up at Monadnock's summit.

While we were sitting, two hawks began to swoop around us, brown-backed, light-bellied, with a wide striped tail. I think they were sharp-shinned. They soared and swooped. They cavorted in the thermals. They flew hard at each other, until the hawk under assault suddenly banked. Both birds would drop unchecked, at the last minute pulling out of their freefalls. We could hear their excited sharp twittering.

Photo: Monadnock, as sketched by Raven on birchbark.

Usually when we see hawks we are far below them, craning our necks, catching glimpses as they travel in a sphere beyond ours. But on this lovely, well-traveled mountain we were among them. I stood gazing out toward the Connecticut River across the green rolling hills that would be my home, that I would come to know. I could not yet imagine the land on fire with fall colors, nor sunk under a white ocean of snow. I did not yet know the feel of spring. I had no idea what lay ahead of me.

The friendly sun was almost directly overhead. All around us lay the soft old mountains, blue and green and thick with trees, shrouded by a veil of clouds. Like messengers the hawks streaked through the beautiful heavens, and then plunged groundward, as if they intended to wrap me in invisible ribbons. They began to tie my heart to New England.