Between a gauntlet of Pacific Coast storms last month, Toby and I find a swath of sunlight and go for a jog.

If you’ve not met Toby, he’s my little pound puppy, half Jack Russell, half Lhasa apso. Toby doesn’t really jog; he saunters alongside me, snickering at my jogging attempts like Muttley from the 1969 cartoon, “Dastardly and Muttley.”

On our homestretch, I sense a wonder-filled moment along our creek trail, so I remove my headphones in time to hear ducks exchanging quacks in a family meeting. The creek dares to inflate its boundaries as the spring grass bends and bows before the beauty of the day.

Turning my gaze into the trees, I see our resident red-tailed hawk perching 15 feet away at eye level. The most common of hawks, the red-tail normally is skittish around people, so I stand in awe at my opportunity to see this one up close.

With five times the visual acuity I have, he’s probably been watching us from a distance. I know he sees Toby, because Toby retreats between my legs. With nearly 200 pounds per square inch in those talons, he is well equipped to make Toby his supper.

Male and female hawks share much the same coloring, but the odds are that my friend is a male, and his lifetime mate is incubating their spring clutch about 60 feet above.

His feathers look a bit shaggy, as he is in the molting season. With a wardrobe consisting of about 7,000 feathers, it’s the red tail feathers that give him his name and carry a spiritual significance in Native American culture.

I wish you were here to see him. I glance up and down the trail like
a revival preacher wondering, “Can I get a witness?” I’m looking as if to claim this hawk as mine.

Suddenly, I see a jogger and his dog approaching, oblivious to what they’ll interrupt. I want to throw up a no trespassing sign. “Go chase a Frisbee, you stupid dog!” I mumble at the intruding couple. “No, I wasn’t talking to you, Toby.”

Wanting some proof that I own this moment, I pull out my camera phone and do the fat-finger fumble with the buttons. By the time I bring up the viewfinder, the jogging interloper is clopping past me.

“Fido” looks none the wiser than his owner for what he’s missing, and all I see is an empty tree branch in my viewfinder.

The hawk swiftly made tracks into the clouds on a nearby thermal. He’s not having any part of my plan to display his life like a voyeuristic trophy. A photo cannot capture him. He is wild and wants to stay wild.

As I thought about how my ego expected to capture and control this spiritual encounter, I could almost hear God’s question to Job: “Was it through your know-how that the hawk learned to fly, soaring effortlessly on thermal updrafts?”

Here I had missed seeing the beautiful creature take wing and climb into the sky because I wanted to capture the moment on camera instead of trusting the experience to linger in my heart.

Trying to posture people into your own idea of life may cause you to miss life’s best moments. You become like the young dad continually futzing with his new camera while his new baby is doing the cutest things.

Life calls us to become a part of God’s picture. When we decide to lay aside the controlling aspirations of the photographer, we become part of the photo and the good memories become everlasting ones.