“I know what you’re doing here,” a gaunt man with bushy eyebrows barked at me, his white van slowing to keep time with my stride down the dirt road. I glanced at his equally disapproving, but healthier looking wife and then checked the red-tailed hawk on my glove. The hawk was unperturbed, ripping at her tyring, which was good, because I was tense.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said, although I knew whatever he meant it wouldn’t be flattering.
“Ever since we started seeing you here, all of the quail have disappeared from our yard. We live over there,” he motioned. I stopped walking and sighed. I supposed a red-tailed hawk could catch a quail if she really tried; she could catch just about anything if she really tried, but the bane to quail always has been the Cooper’s hawk. I’d never caught a quail with a hawk in my life. “We don’t want you coming here anymore,” he said.
“Do you own this land, Sir?” I asked this, but I knew the answer. I had seen the phone number on the “For Sale” sign and the area code was out of state. The property, choked with Lantana, adjacent to the shell of what had been a bowling alley and edging a little pond was a haven to cottontail and swamp rabbits. It was the best place, the only place I had found near my home in Florida to hunt rabbits with the hawk and I wasn’t giving it up. The man didn’t answer me, so I continued. “My hawk doesn’t catch quail.” I adjusted the rabbit leg she was eating and the wife wrinkled her nose.
“I saw your hawk in my yard. It’s dangerous and I don’t want it near our dog.”
I nodded. It had been a long hard week that even the night’s hunt hadn’t made better. I pointed to Syd’s anklets and jesses, “Did you see any leather around its legs, like this?”
“I wouldn’t get that close,” he sniffed.
I flicked the bell on her bewit and it jingled like a sleigh. “Did you hear a bell?”
“No,” he said.
“Sir, can I show you something? Will you get out of your car?”
He looked at my hawk as if I might use her as a weapon, but his wife nudged him and he got out, carefully, suspiciously. And I thought to myself that my career in wildlife education was likely to be short lived, because I was barely keeping my tongue civil. Moments like this made my pulse burn with rage over fools and parents and tyrants. I pointed up and his gaze followed. Two red-tailed hawks soared in opposing circles, the preliminary motions of March romance.
“Could it have been one of them?” I asked.
The man nodded without taking his eyes off them. “Suppose,” he said, sounding uncertain, not of the answer, but of everything.
“Those aren’t mine,” I said, “They’re yours. Take good care of them.”
I loaded the truck and drove off, my last glimpse one of the human couple, backs arched, necks straining for a better view. I never saw them again.