this image doesn’t do him justice. he was enormous, people!

There are three hawks in our neighborhood. Maybe four.

We live in a house built in the ’50s. It is surrounded by other houses raised at the same time and, beyond those, a suburb’s worth of the American dream spreads out, shoulder-to-shoulder from the river to the mountain. What I’m telling you is, with the exception of a dog park a half mile from here and a children’s playground complete with slides and baby swings, there isn’t a lot of wilderness to speak of outside of our front door.

But six years ago now, I was in the backyard with my friend Kathy when the tinkling sound of bells in an otherwise quiet morning drew our attention to a neighbor’s tree whose branches extended over the wall to shade part of our lawn. The bells would still and then sound again, accompanied by the movement of something small dog-sized in the tree. I crept inside the house to find the camera and take pictures to support my claims of its existence later. The hawk even lingered long enough to allow me to do so.

That hawk turned out to be an anomaly—someone’s pet that had made a break for it, bells and all, when it’s overreaching ‘owner’ (Had someone ever dared to think of themselves that way? Hubris is hilarious!) let their guard down or a window open or blinked too long and lost hold of it. There were flyers posted around the neighborhood advertising the bird’s loss. A hawk doesn’t seem like something one would cherish much hope of recovering and, for all I know, that bird’s still roosting in the trees adjacent to our house.

The family of short-tailed hawks that are nesting two blocks from here have never belonged to anyone, though. I’ve watched them for years, wrongly assuming that it was a single bird I was following.

That’s one hell-raising bird, I would think, observing the indignant exit of swarms of doves from whatever tree the hawk would settle into. Once on a walk, I saw him sitting still on a lower branch holding breakfast in its feet. I drifted close enough to see what rodent had run afoul of those horny talons.

It was a dove.

“No wonder everyone hates you,” I muttered.

Then, just last month, I stopped in front of a telephone pole that had fallen into disuse to watch a loud hawk—my hawk, I thought—lording it over some dead morsel it was pulling apart between its feet. I was shaking my head at this sorry excuse for a winner, this King of our Suburban Bird Jungle, when just behind him two more hawks swooped behind him and into the tree beyond.

Wild things creep in. They persist. As a mother, that thought and all of its implications can be frightening.

Wild things creep in. They persist. As a mother, that thought and all of its implications can be frightening. I want a soft world for The Three, I tell myself, all rounded corners and padded floors. Things should be tame for children because that’s what’s safest. All pigeons and doves, things you can feed at the park, that’s what I want for my children and their lives.

Safety has its allure for me, but not all of the time. And those hawks remind me of how thrilling wild things can be. Cushioning the uncertain places, weeding out the wild may very well make things safer but, God help me, they make them boring, too. Wild things remind us of what’s still possible even when you think nothing can surprise you, that everything is nailed down, that life is going to lay right down and let you manage it.

Wild things keep you on your toes.