Six Weeks for One Second
The last place I saw her was only a couple dozen yards away but the woods were thick and the trail wound in steep slopes. I was walking on the clumsy human part, the ground. She was up in the air. I whistled her four notes which I stole from a childhood movie; Iron Will. In that dog sledding movie four notes got the team motivated and ready to go. I whistle that to Aya and wait.
I heard bells.
They are bright and sound like silver. I turn around and she is coming at me. I put up my glove hoping she'll land on that instead of my hat (sometimes she lands on my hat) but as soon as she sees there isn't any lamb in it she Top Guns some insane maneuver at the last minute and lands in a naked birch branch above my head. She lands and her new jesses look too new, like a kid wearing jeans the first day of school. She shakes her tail and looks down at me. Her look is easy to read. "So you going to put up some grub or what? I am waiting..."
I find a thick branch about the length of my body (all 5'2" of it) and start hitting the brush below her. Now she is watching intently, seeing things I can't even imagine. If a rabbit is within 100 yards she will know. Then I hear the explosion of wings and cloven air and silver brightness. She is in the bush and her wings are all akimbo and awkward. She looks like a preteen trying out for water polo = but he hawk version in a bush. For a second I think something amazing has happened, like she caught a black squirrel or grouse. She pops up her head and regains some semblance of balance and in her feet is a fat white-footed deer mouse. A mouse. What noble quarry. I whoop like she took down a ten-pointer.
We just started hunting together. I am thrilled with anything she eats that she associates with hunting alongside a person. We can work up to larger quarry. The red tail was caught on September 22nd. We spent two weeks learning each other entirely indoors. Then she learned to fly to me in open spaces on a long leash called a creance. Two weeks ago she started flying free. Now we were in hunting-partnership mode. She ate the mouse in a gulp and I put up my fist and called her. She flew to me.
Six weeks of work and it all comes down to that second a hawk makes a decision. Six weeks of weighting, training, time, measuring, fields, leashes, talon scars.... six weeks of my life for on second. My heart swells and pushes against my ribs. I feel it hurt, not sure if it is happy anxiety or relief. We are doing this, two species connecting impossibly.
She landed on my fist. I wrapped the jesses around my fingers. I feed her some lamb from my pocket and I can see the crop she is starting to gather. I smile. I slide on her hood and we walk down the mountain home.