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I generally pay little attention to personal adornment. As far as inflicting much attention on my person, it always seemed something of a lost cause. The best artist in the land is constrained by the nature of the basic canvas.

In this disregard for artificial embellishment to one’s appearance, I feel I am in a pretty small minority. The application of war paint is firmly embedded in our national psyche; as much a daily ablution as brushing one’s teeth.

I understand why it is done. As a social animal, humans follow the same behaviors of similar groups throughout the animal kingdom. In any group, there is continual competition among members to be noticed. This can take many forms, from loud mufflers and burnouts to blue Mohawks and cranked up obscene music. Basically, one picks a medium, puts something up and waits.

By and by someone else will do just a bit more, you go one step further and the race is on. The end comes for some when they achieve their goal — often the taking of a mate. For those who have not been successful, the progression continues on to the extreme and what started as a cute rose tattoo on the forearm finishes as full facial art, multiple piercings and implanted horns.

For the successful members of the group, the embellishment generally stays at the level at which they achieved success and, as they become more confident, may even back off a bit, however, the actual nature of such things as ordinary facial make-up are seldom given great thought — it is just the way things are done. This was not the case with the application of facial makeup in elder times, particularly around the eyes. Nowadays there are serious tomes on skin color, feature outline and environment as determinates of eye makeup color and placement.

Ancient Egypt provided much of the basis. Here there were two basic applications — Udhu and Mesdemet. The first was a material identified with Hathor, the goddess of beauty, love, joy and women in general. Udhu was a metallic green hue, typically brushed across the whole lid by women, to invoke Hathor’s protection of those wearing her mineral. Mesdemet, on the other hand, was dark-colored kohl, which contains lead sulphide, used as our equivalent of eye liner. This actually was a disinfectant, protected eyes from the sun, kept flies away and provided remedy to many everyday eye irritants.

The two together also represented a sort of psychic protection. Without adornment, it was thought that eyes would become more susceptible to the Evil Eye. In this role, the eyeliner also had to be applied in a particular manner. In order to be truly effective, one had to effect the “eye of Horus,” a shape derived from the black slash around the eye of the peregrine falcon, a sacred bird and powerful effigy.

This came to mind, not because I was considering experimenting with eyeliner, but rather because a large raptor sporting just that black flaring shape around its eyes has taken up residence in my Christmas tree field, menacing everything from my beloved pigeons to the home rabbits to the smaller cats.

This fearsome avian predator is not a peregrine but rather a large goshawk. Its size, close to a redtail hawk, indicates it is probably a female, which means I may soon have to contend with two of them feeding a nestful of hungry babies. Males are much smaller, closer to the size of a Cooper’s hawk.

Goshawks are bulky-looking killers with a long straight tail, used to steer their high-speed flights through the woodland habitat they prefer. They are a slate gray with finely barred white breast and underparts. The eye is a disconcertingly orange color surrounded and trailed with a dark falcon slash. Having one so close to the house is rather unusual. If someone has a hawk lurking around a birdfeeder, I can usually say with some confidence it is a Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawk. The goshawk is their larger, fiercer, wilder cousin generally distrustful of the works of man but perfectly at home in the deep woods.

Goshawks are found throughout North America and Eurasia. In some of the arctic portions of their range, some of the birds are almost snow white. The name goshawk derives from the old English designation of “goose hawk” given its propensity to feed on large birds. Back in the era of immense passenger pigeon flocks, goshawks followed their migrations much as mammalian predators follow large migrating herds of caribou, wildebeest or bison.

James Audubon described them as follows: “When the Passenger Pigeons are abundant in the western country, the Goshawk follows their close masses, and subsists upon them. A single Hawk suffices to spread the greatest terror among their ranks, and the moment he sweeps towards a flock, the whole immediately dive into the deepest woods, where, notwithstanding their great speed, the marauder succeeds in clutching the fattest.”

Goshawks have an interesting nesting habit. They build and maintain as many as eight nests throughout their breeding territory although they only raise brood in one of them. While an occasional new nest may be constructed in succeeding years, they typically raise their brood in the same nest year after year. Late in the nesting season, they bring sprigs of fresh evergreen and willow to place around the edge of the nest. This is a natural insecticide that helps protect the young from biting flies and maggots.

Finding a goshawk nest is not always such a pleasant experience for they are fierce protectors of the nesting area. Both parents will dive on an intruder, raking across them with outstretched talons. This can be pretty disconcerting as the first strike typically comes without warning. Partly because of this ferocity, Attila the Hun decorated his war helmet with an effigy of a goshawk with greatly exaggerated eye blazes — sort of like some of the teenage girls I have known. ...

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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