“He really was an enchanting person. In some way he was like the spiritual father of everybody…. It is hard to imagine Central Park without Charles Kennedy.” Marie Winn, author of Red-tails in Love, and close friend of Charles, remembering him after his death in October 2004

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving and Charles Part 2

It's been two days since Thanksgiving when I posted about Charles's approach to gratitude. Here now are some expressions of appreciation and gratitude from his book dedicated to the great Red-tailed Hawk of Central Park, Pale Male.

Excerpted from Pale Male and Family: Essays and Photos of Charles F. Kennedy

Question: what could be better than being 150 feet in the air on a beautiful terrace that overlooks Central Park with exquisite hawks on both sides?

I stare
she stares back
red-tail mother


Smiles and warm grins seem inevitable when looking at this kid. And after my decade-long affair with the father, a good Red-tail quote still brings pleasure. Pale Male and his young son are formally titled Buteo jamaicensis, one of the dozen species of the genus Buteo. I suppose it’s not a belly laugh, but in the hot new reference book, The Sibley Guide to Birds, a line very much pleases me: “Red-tail, the Buteo to which all others are compared.” Now check the picture again and smile.



And so she tossed the heart, ate her rat, wiped her beak on the apple branch, and now flies from her victory. I stand by the apple tree collecting my thoughts and camera stuff. An hour has passed. The bright gray noon is now a glorious blue afternoon. She is back on her street light with a crop so full she can barely see over. I’m so fortunate to have been there, fortunate this fierce young warrior allowed me to be the voyeur in this particular circle of her life. Thanks, lady.


I have special affection for this photograph. This young hawk gave me a privileged view of its life as it caught the rat, ate it on a low limb, and then posed on a streetlight. Growing up the Red-tailed way, and I got to be there for a bit of it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving and Charles

It is Thanksgiving Day, 2009. It is obvious that I'll be eternally grateful for having my Uncle Charles guide my life for nearly 50 years. Charles's approach to gratitude was so simple and powerful that it will be featured here over the next few days via some excerpts from the first two books of his works. Look for the joy, wonder, and deep appreciation in these pieces. And enjoy the way Charles expressed his gratitude at his good fortune by inviting everyone around into his ecstatic experience of Nature's beauty, and by creating pieces of his own that captured and illuminated for others those same experiences. Today, it will be a few clips from The Fish Jumps Out of the Moon: Haiku of Charles F. Kennedy.

[From the introduction to The Fish Jumps Out of the Moon]
Like the Japanese masters, Charles had an expressly non-theistic worldview. He had no time for a “too-small god.” Those who knew him saw him as a naturally “spiritual” person. Loved ones and casual acquaintances commonly described him as the most generous, patient, and persistently joyful person they had ever known. Charles found rich pleasure in providing joyful experiences for others, most often by helping them see a bit of Nature’s beauty or drama in the park. He spent long days in the spring at the “hawk bench” near the model boat pond on the park’s east side. He reveled in bringing the famous nesting Red-tailed Hawks of 5th Avenue to the attention of dozens of passersby, employing his considerable knowledge and eloquence to engage and amaze. This exuberance is evident in Charles’s writing and he made gifts of his haiku and photos to commemorate special, common experiences.

Charles delighted in bringing his Iowa roots [and our family's history] into shared study of urban nature. It was part of his infectious charm.

the sweetcorn
planted next to the back door
mom understood

thinning tiny carrots
while lying between the rows
childhood job

reed riders
my father loved you too

[From the body of The Fish Jumps Out of the Moon]

the moon

paints so beautifully


Anyway, you must sit here and watch her weave that web and you’ll see why I believe that spiders know Chopin. It’s so, well, musical sitting here watching Diadematus sing and dance.

watching the dance
a spider song

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Charles F. Kennedy Biography

I've been back in Colorado now for a few days and finally catching up, and reflecting on 'The Legend of Pale Male'. The portrayal of Charles in the film is so compelling that it has fueled my resolve to complete the biography I've begun about him. Charles' story needs to be committed to print for many to enjoy and learn from. I'll pick up the task in earnest in January. Along the road I hope to get Charles' 'owl book' published. Those who have read it say it may be his best compilation. I'll begin to put a bit of it on the site here in the coming days and weeks.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Filmmaker Frederic Lilien and screenwriter Janet Hess have created a masterpiece documentary film. My niece, Jill, and I had the pleasure of attending the New York premiere of the pair's "The Legend of Pale Male." The screening, attended by over 300 nature enthusiasts, benefitted New York City Audubon.

This inspired film centers around the remarkably intertwined lives of a famous clan of Red-tailed Hawks and a large community of hawk-loving New Yorkers. The cinematography, editing, and writing are superb. Throughout the film tribute is paid to Charles-- for his role in mentoring Frederic through many years of filming and hawk stalking, and for his devotion to the hawks and hawk watchers.

There will be much more said about this lovely film in future posts. For now, however, if you're reading this post, please move to the right side of this page and click on the "The Legend of Pale Male" icon and learn more. And, keep your eyes to the skies.... "The Legend" may well be coming to a city near you!

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review of Pale Male and The Fish Jumps by E.J. McAdams

This review, by E.J McAdams, appeared in the NYC Audubon Newsletter The Urban Audubon Nov-Dec 2009 issue. (Thank you, Marcia Fowle!) Visit NYC Audubon at www.nycaudubon.org


The Fish Jumps Out of the Moon: Haiku of Charles Kennedy
Edited by Steve Kennedy and Dan Guenther
Xlibris, 2009

Pale Male and Family: Essays and Photos of Charles Kennedy
Edited by Steve Kennedy
Xlibris, 2009

The human star of Frederic Lilien’s documentary film Pale Male was Charles Kennedy, who passed away in 2004. If you saw that film you know that Charles was kind, funny, Romantic, and obsessed with Pale Male. His role as one of the most dedicated of the Regulars is what gave the film its human heart. If you loved the moments that Charles was on camera – and you would have to have a pretty hard heart not to – then Steve Kennedy, Charles’ devoted nephew, has edited the book for you. Pale Male and Family gives us the first-person perspective on his experience with Pale Male that the film only provides glimpses of.

The book is a collection of unpublished photos that he took of Pale Male and his many mates and progeny, along with vignettes that Charles wrote about these photos. If you knew Charles personally – and many people did because he was so outgoing and friendly – you might have read some of these individual pieces, but Steve Kennedy has done a great service for Pale Male’s fans by bringing these together in one book.

Charles was an attentive naturalist, an unabashed sensualist, an incredible self-taught photographer, a natural philosopher, a trickster, and a generous teacher. All of these modes come across in the work. What distinguishes his book from Marie Winn’s seminal Red-tails in Love and Lilien’s film is the concentration on the (photographic) moment of observation: for example, the three chicks on their nest looking off in different directions who seem ready to “declare their opinion to the sky.” Although Steve Kennedy has gently wrangled these discrete pieces into a narrative of the hawklings from birth to adulthood, the book is really a poetic diary that follows the thread of Charles’ delight. It makes the book a delight to read and a welcome addition to the growing Pale Male bibliography.

What is especially striking is the intimacy of the photos and the writing – how close he came to the birds, both physically and imaginatively. Whereas much nature writing concentrates on description, Charles’ writing is very concerned with relationship: his relationship with the hawks, the fledglings with their parents, predator and prey. “Stuffed Crop” is my favorite meditation: the photo is of a fledgling shot from below, its yellow-tinged crop bulging with what we find out is a rat. Although the rat has been consumed Charles opens this chapter saying: “This is a photograph of not one animal but two.” It is the “living” presence of the dead rat in the hawk that is so spooky and wonderful – and rare to find in other authors’ nature writing.


After all of that praise, I would still say the better of these two wonderful books is The Fish Jumps Out of the Moon.

The reason is that haiku is the perfect literary form to capture the moment. He is very accomplished in haiku and brings an unusual mix of western and eastern tendencies, especially in the series “Cicada,” as if he were channeling Basho the master haiku poet and Ovid the ultimate poet of metamorphosis.

If haiku are typically thought of as cool and “objective,” Charles returns the warmth and longing (and sexuality) back to haiku:

great sex life

plus a mushroom diet

oh to be a slug

Because his subjects vary from slugs to spiders to owls and of course hawks, Charles has the chance to introduce other interests like jazz, food, and books. The suite “Spider Songs” goes to great lengths to capture the “music” he hears in his moments alone with the orb weavers.

Some of my favorite photos are collected in this book. Again and again Charles zooms in so close that we are almost touching the subjects. In contrast to the prose in Pale Male and Family, here the writing doesn’t so much describe what is being presented in these close-up photos of animals as play around and against the images. These memorable haiku are an equal art to his photos.


It is important to note that I am not at all unbiased in this review. I am one of the ones who was under the spell of Charles Kennedy. It is a spell that made every moment charged with significance and wonder. Thanks to Steve Kennedy, a wide audience of readers now has a chance to fall under that spell too.

Legend of Pale Male

Photo from Pale Male and Family: Essays and Photos of Charles F. Kennedy

It's great to be back in NYC and anticipating seeing many friends. I'm looking forward to seeing a special screening of Frederic Lilien's new documentary film, "The Legend of Pale Male." The screening, tomorrow evening, Nov. 6. will be a benefit for NYC Audubon The Audubon folks have graciously invited me to make Charles' books available at the screening. (Thank you, Melissa Husby!) Both books were reviewed in the November/December NYC Audubon newsletter by Charles' friend, and fine poet, E.J. McAdams.
I'll post a review of the film in the next couple of days. Visit the film website– http://www.thelegendofpalemale.com/HOME.html