Hope to Kill
She’s high above me in a treetop, perhaps forty feet? I can see her head bob and swivel. She is looking at the same naked trees and overgrown fields as I am. They are scattered with squirrel nests and rabbit warrens. There is no game about either of us can see so I decide to start walking away. I want to see if she’ll follow me of her own free will. I make it about fifty yards when I whistle her two notes. It’s a slide from a low note to a higher one, the same song she’s heard every time I have called her to food. I hear the bells of her anklet turn towards me. They are tiny, silver, bells that jingle like something from Yuletide prop closet and even half a football field away she is clear and bright. The sound reminds me of what a really, really, nice acoustic guitar sounds like when a D chord is played. She swoops through the trees and lands right above me, looking down expectantly. I did whistle, didn’t I? I smile and reach into my game bag for a small piece of lamb. She takes him greedily. Lamb will do just fine.
The lamb’s name was Elijah. Sounds vaguely biblical but this year’s lambs were all named after Characters from the show Girls. I can’t help but think that both Elijah and Aya Cash were born here in a cold, New York, spring. Aya was in a nest with siblings, the bets of her reaching her first birthday were around 1 in 7. She is chance and wildness. Elijah however, he was planned and domesticated. I raised his father from a lamb, bred him to a purchased ewe, banded his tail, fed him supplements, gave him shots and watched him grow. He was raised in the safest and most-pastoral of circumstances, yet here he is. Part of his shank is on my leather-clad fingertips hours away from being hawk poop. Aya is gulping him down happily. If it seems vulgar or sad - feeding an animal you knew to another animal you know - it’s not. That's just farming. Sometimes it’s a hawk. Usually it’s a person. This time it's a domesticated animal I knew named after a fictional character on HBO to a hawk named after an actual human being in California. Apologies to everyone.
Aya Cash is feeling good. I think I found her flying weight, around 975 grams. She is eager to hunt and eager to return to me - she doesn’t give a fuck as long as food is the end game. Aya doesn't care about HBO, lambs, farmers or actors. She cares about the sound of those two notes coming from the one other animal she trusts.
We hunt, fly, and hike for another two hours. I am so close to the farm I can see the white specks of my sheep running down my hill from a mountaintop away. I need to be a living perch and carry her on my left arm all the way home. If you want to know what that is like, hold out your left fist with a cup of water balanced on it and see how long you can hold it still and even. I hiked 90 minutes with that coming and going. Your body changes to the stories you tell it.
I call her back to me a last time this day. I slip on her hood and she is instantly calm. We are heading home soon, and she'll sit on the perch in the living room while I fuss over human things like dinner, farm chores, dog feeding and emails. No kills for Aya today. Yet it's a privilege to see her make decisions, and to be a part of them. I like it. Makes me feel part of something old and feral.
I have never sat in on a writer's room for a TV show or shifted through a comedians notes - but it is all the same to me. Pop culture and agriculture and hunting culture are just people hoping for stories. You dare to throw something out there - all of it circumstance and luck. You hope you kill. And if you do, you really fucking hope you get to do it again if you are lucky.
We're all doing the same thing.