It took eight years of email exchange before I finally met Hans and Pam Peeters. Hans is one of my favorite wildlife artists and our first email exchange consisted of him asking me what the bird was on my glove in a photograph he spotted in the CHC Journal.
“It looks Australasian,” he said, “but that simply isn’t possible because you cannot get Australian birds into the United States.”
…Oh the well-trained eyes of a biologist/artist. He was looking at a photo of me with my Australian brown goshawk in the bush just outside of Healesville, Victoria. It was snapped just before my last hunt with her and her subsequent release.
A few years later, I found myself begging for a commissioned piece of her. Hans agreed and completed the painting in 2007. —I finally got my act together and picked it up yesterday.
It was hanging on the wall, behind him as we sat at the kitchen table, swapping stories. Falconers are surely the greatest of story tellers. Perhaps it is that so much of what we love happens in fleeting moments with no witnesses. The only way to hold on to the magic is to try to somehow match the memory for another with a well spun yarn. I could listen to falconers for hours, especially if I get to weave a few tales of my own.
But all through the storytelling, my eyes kept wandering back to the painting and the sparks of memories it lit through my senses. I could smell the ecalypt, hear the bell miners and whipbirds. I fought the urge to fidget with my pant legs, thinking if I were hunting in Oz, the dress pants I wore might not be thick enough to manage the deadly, but shallow-fanged snakes. And though I wanted to stare, I only stole glances, as if she were really the skittish goshawk whose tenuous partnership I only barely kept intact the months we hunted together. She could ignore the currawongs harassing her to the end of time, but if I looked at her wrong she would ghost into the bush, no more than a faintly ringing bell in the distance.
I wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but the painting evoked place and moment in a visceral way. “It’s the light,” Pam said and she was right. That dusky dense light pushing through air that smells as thick as it feels and looks was Australia. That light washed me in homesickness, that deep ache I felt the entire time I was there. And there was a new melancholy in the feeling as well, a softer yearning for a time that had come and gone, a place I had made mine for just a little while, knowing all the while I wanted to and had to go home.
But now here she is forever, my feathered specter in a noisy stand of eucalypts, the Cassandra’s eyes of an accipter looking into my past and perhaps my future. Better than a falconer’s story. Better than a memory. Thank you, Hans. It’s amazing.