I really never cared about the life of birds before I met him. As long as they didn’t poop on my car or swoop down on my head, I hardly noticed they were there. But Alec was quick to point out when two hawks had 4 baby hawks in the big tree on the opposite side of my condo complex in Tucson.
He walked me over, and we viewed the nest. We watched as the parents sat in the morning puddles from the lawn sprinklers to carry water on their feathers to their thirsty young. He worried the heat would kill all the chicks. He checked on them regularly. About a month later, he showed me video he captured of two of the young hawks catching a bird on our 6-foot patio. Pinning their prey against our glass door and then tearing it apart on the low block wall.
“It was just some little tweety bird,” Alec said, with a little smile of satisfaction that “his birds” had survived and won again.
Like almost any topic you could name, Alec Sutherland knew a lot about falconry. He explained the birds he had kept. How they were captured, how they were feed. How he lost his favorite – probably to the owls.
For a brief time, Alec and I were in the same boat. Empty nesters with busy wives, families living in Gilbert, we were working 100 miles away in Tucson.
I had met him (sort of) playing tennis at Val Vista Lakes. He was coming down and asked if he could use my second bedroom for a few weeks until he found a place. He stayed for almost two years. Packing in and out each week like the condo was a remote forest. Not leaving a trace he was there or not. I was sad to see him go.
It was better for him – onto better jobs and being closer to his family. But it left me without a tennis partner, a quick and insightful conversationalist, and someone to elevate the talk in the third-world bar above farts and arguments on whether professional wrestling is “real.”
I learned a lot about bioscience, bio medicine, the business of healthcare and the bullshit of startups and buyouts from Alec. He relayed the stories with a smile and even though he knew so much more about those topics, he never made me feel stupid. We agreed on many things – a couple of blue dots in the red sea of the East Valley, but I always had the sense we could talk about everything or “nothing” and he still had something worthwhile or funny to say. He was especially good at keeping a joke going – tagging it in all kinds of unexpected ways.
Tennis and beer were strong connective tissues that held us together, and we both couldn’t wait to get to the third-world club on Wednesday nights to hit a few balls and down a few pitchers. I remember playing hard, and laughing harder. After Alec moved away, Wednesday nights (and my knees) started to fall apart, and I stopped going.
Once back in Phoenix, Alec’s stress level visibly dropped. His job in Tucson was pretty terrible, and that kind of frustration spills out onto the court. His tennis got much better when he got away. Later, we played on a grass court in Scottsdale. We had been pretty even before, he beat me so badly that last time, I don’t think I could have ever taken a set from him again. Looking back, I’m very glad he ended on a “win.”
Alec eventually left Gilbert for San Francisco and the booming biotech startups there. His family kept the house in Gilbert. I saw him once during the pandemic. He had brain cancer and had moved home. He passed in early 2022.
For the past 5 years, I’ve spent a lot of time looking up. Picking out the red tail hawks from the gosling hawks. Counting them in the spring on the telephone poles on the highway between Tucson and Florence. Watching out my home office window as they chase the doves out of the evergreen trees near my house. I still really don’t care about birds… but they remind me of Alec, and that makes me look.
Categories: Tennis teams -- Pendejos