The birds have dissolved into the sky
And the last remaining clouds have faded away
We sit together the mountain and me
Until only the mountain remains
Am I going to be the first falconer to have his hawk die on his fist?
Chabhair is yet to eat from me and it is the now the third day of trying.
My mind is awash with the imaginary pressure of friends and workmates. They all know that I have been working up to this very moment. I catch this thought and see it for what it is – and the anxiety beats a retreat slowly back to my gut. There is no truth to hold onto here, this is just another negative narrative from a mind prone to running away with itself.
Clarity though, speaks in simple, soothing tones. He will be fine and my concerns for others are misplaced. I have a relationship I need to build right here in the dim, misty light of my garage. I need the courage of my convictions not the worries of my peers.
My aches are now like old friends. Softer and more deep-seated. I greet them. They are all part of this unearthly experience. The hawk is as alert as he ever was. I can spot little sign of any change in demeanour and so, with a deep breath, we begin again.
Eyes closed. Sparrows on the garage roof. Air in my windpipe as I breathe.
It feels as though the bird and I might be settling together. This is new.
I’m only ten minutes seated and I’ve counted Chabhair rousing three times. My eyes remain closed and I’m getting to know him better for it. The movements are subtler than before and smoother, he feels lighter on the glove. I sense this situation isn’t as new or as scary to him anymore. He’s beginning to relax into the situation.
My mentor, an experienced falconer of many years, had given me plenty of advice before receiving Chabhair. None of it had included closing your eyes. That, inexplicably, just felt right to me. What he had said, was to slowly, periodically, move the chick (still sitting at the hawk’s feet on my glove) with my thumb and forefinger as though it still pulsed with life. This isn’t easy whilst still mastering the balance of a raptor simultaneously. Once you learn to move those fingers and still keep your hand steady though, it’s a real killer of a move.
The effect is something like a death spasm in the chick. Just enough movement for interest, as too much would illicit fear. I get it just right and his neck bends towards it immediately. I can’t help but look. He is so close. His beak opens almost imperceptibly. He eyes it for a millennia and tiniest sliver of tongue darts out of his mouth for the first time. He wants this.
A pressure release and sea change all in one little moment.
My hope is up and mind is racing. Before I know it I’ve crowded the garage with my thoughts and desires and visions of our future adventures. The air is thick with them. Overwhelmed by them, or at least the change in me, Chabhair’s hunger noticeably subsides.
But I had renewed belief and I wouldn’t have to wait too long. Each movement of the thumb now caused a stir and all thoughts of meditation had disappeared. I had eyes only for the drama in front of me and the hawk only had eyes for his prey. My heart rate rose noisily with every movement. The eyes of fire were transfixed now, he watched the chick and its tiny movements with the intrigue of a true hunter. Unmoving and silent, I was transfixed too.
And then, a frenzy.
I’m not sure what I expected next.
But I felt every single moment with him. From that first tear the bloodlust ran through me like a raging torrent. An anger and rage. A furious release. Wanting to rip every piece of that flesh together with him, I was deafened by the thuds from my chest, choked by the elation and release, I was channelling a fiery, primal adrenalin. The massacre on my fist was a joy to behold, the shocking colours of the torn torso somehow beautiful to my mind. I could have screamed in delight as the yoke poured from the carcass and dripped to the floor. Every pull, rip and tear was me. I felt like I was the bird, so deep was my desire for the flesh in that moment.
Utterly doubled over his food, the hawk barely looked up. He has mantled over the prey, fanning his tail out widely and bringing his wings round to encircle it. The message was clear: this chick was his. Those fearsome and frightened eyes hardly glanced at me as he ripped and tore his way towards an understanding: I was his provider, I was his food. The renewed and vicious pressure of his talons on the glove took my breath away. This was awe in its purest sense.
Moments later, with only a morsel left to be eaten, he stared up at me. His beak was only a foot from my face, it was smeared with his kill. Staring through me, his primal urges laid bare, we both acknowledged the connection and the moment. His feathers slowly retreated and he, quite serenely, turned back to his meal.
I have rarely felt this alive. So present. I was ecstatic and surprised by this first person experience and its primitiveness. So involved was I that I had forgotten myself. I had become what I was observing.
If anyone had been watching they would have seen the mountain, but not the man.