Eight years ago when I started Operation Desert Dove to tell the tale of flying my first falcon, no one was reading and I knew it. I figured a few people would come along for the ride, but I knew I was only going to be speaking to a handful of interested falconers. Those few people would be enough to keep me honest while training my first peregrine and enough of an audience to encourage me to think poetically about the experience. I wanted a record.
That was what I wanted and exactly what I got.
I’m by no means famous, but more things have changed than the name of the blog. I have friends on Facebook and on Twitter and all kinds of people read the blog, not just a few net-savvy literary falconers. I LOVE my audience, but this is no longer a cocktail party, it’s a stage. It’s a stage for all of us, not just me. We’re not talking amongst ourselves anymore. This is wonderful and terrifying and simply different. People keep asking why I’m so mums-the-word about the Cooper’s hawk I’m training, a first for me. It could be another ride just like the peregrine nearly a decade ago. It could be another book and must be full of so many tales. And there are tales indeed, but the truth of it is, I don’t want to share with you.
I’m not failing, I’m thriving, but I don’t want to broadcast the intimate details. These precious moments belong to me. I’m sure the experience is changing me in a thousand ways– this wholly different hawk who is all amygdala and no critical thinking, no practicality. We are running wild in the last hours of summer light, a time with which I’ve never been intimate. I flew my hawks in afternoon thermals and my falcons in the crisp air of autumn dawn. The warm and swarming last light of the fading heated months is a new world. And the little accipiter is making me feral.
There is a magic in these hours that I barely want to share. Two nights ago when the Cooper’s hawk was fed, tucked in his transport box after corkscrew flights and touch-and-go promises, I rummaged for the now-warm Tecate can I had tucked in the back of my truck and I popped it open. I stood scratching the dog’s head; swatting mosquitos and watching the orange tones fail as the darkness rose dense from the crops of clover and corn. Sandhill cranes trumpeted their rising and a coyote sang for his earthbound pack. The sounds made the dog and I still, listening for direction and an appropriate exit.
Perhaps it was our stillness that made us invisible to the barn owl that swooped by too fast for me to flinch. She twisted, rose, plummeted and lit into the brush five feet from the truck, lifting with a mouse in her feet, not a sound, a silent slice of the coming night.
I swore under my breath, heart pounding too loud for comfort and then finished my beer in breathless gulps. I was torn between my human wonder and a primal resonance of danger, the perfectly tuned piano string of an accipiter’s sinew. The hours of reacting to the tiny live wire on my glove had slipped my reason from me. I was certain the gloaming had worn away the day, opening a door to the nightshift where none of my party belonged. I had been there just long enough to bear witness and run.
This is hunting with a Cooper’s hawk. I could tell you about training him to a flashlight and regaining him after dark. I could explain how he fought his way back to me far in and at the base of an eight-foot tall crop of feed corn. I could describe to you how I think I eased the aggression and have kept the tips of his tail intact. Or I could tell you about all the little failures, how I pulled out a deck feather, set him loose in the weathering yard, met tiny talons and bled from my shins. Or I could just tell you it’s magic and leave it at that.
In fact, that’s what I think I’ll do.