Syd drove two hours looking for a hawk. They finally found one, sitting in a tree across from a barn. Hawks stay in the same spot for hours, waiting for prey. This one pounced on the trap before they could step back, so hungry it lost its bearings and caught a foot in a loop of wire. They put the huge hood over its head, bound its feet and drove for another hour with it in her lap, tiny heart thudding against her fingers. They were trying to find something better, in which case they would turn him loose, but it was a bad day for hawks, so they finally settled on him, mangey and starved, ulcers on both legs. The trainer pulled up to a local bakery and came back with donuts, which she didn’t take. Her hands crawled with parasites. When they got back to the house and took his hood off, he studied them, eyes darting from one to the other, but in ten minutes he took the quail right out of her hand. The trainer said he was probably sick. There was a chance he could die.
They looped leather around his ankles, attached a leash, taught him with more quail how to fly and come back. A week after they caught him, they let him fly free. As long as she kept him hungry, he would come, loop once or twice, land on her leather wrist, give her the back of his head, a gesture of submission. She never let herself think they were connected– her detachment makes her a good birder, even at thirteen. She sorts and processes efficiently, careful with details: the length of a crest, the color and curl of a claw. They studied each other the same way, girl and hawk, dispassionate appraisals, making deals: back in ten minutes, half a quail. Back in five, the whole thing. At night he slept in a plywood box with metal bars on the window. The trainer called it a muse. He stayed patiently, not making a sound, the coop next to him filled with gossipy, rustling chickens, loose feathers furring the ramp, the doorframe, the roof. He waited for her after school like a dog, perched on the post at the end of the driveway. She walked back to the house with him on her wrist. Every night she powdered him to get rid of the parasites, dipped his foot in iodine to keep the ulcers from getting infected.
The plan was never to keep him. Just to learn how to handle a bird. After five months she started weaning him, gave him more quail than he could eat every day, stopped touching him, cut his leads. You need to leave them wild, so they don’t fly up to people and scare them, get themselves killed. He went wild faster than the trainer expected, plump and vigorous, more wary each time she came to the muse. They drove him back to the field where they found him and let him loose. He rose on a few strong pumps, disappeared over the tree-line as if he had never known her. That night at the dinner table she asked for seconds. You would think she had never known him either, except that she could tell you, if you asked, how long he was with her: five months, a week and two days.