I feel like I’m going against my better judgement. I’m conflicted enough that this excites me though. I walk slowly but deliberately over to Chabhair, my feet swishing in the long grass. His eyes, as ever, are on me alone. With a chick leg on the glove he hops up unsuspecting of any change, thinking of the food alone. Bringing the jesses through my gloved fingers smoothly I turn my hand inward a little so as to mask the movement taking place underneath. He can’t see me taking the creance off. He mustn’t. My hands are shaking, making the operation more difficult. I can’t ignore the nerves either, they are a loud din in my mind. It’s hard to remember to breathe in moments like this, hard to regain control. But that is hugely important when dealing with unwieldy characters like hawks. They need calm. They need control, consistency. The battle is half won if you can provide that.
The creance slides off easily. The falconers knot, connecting jesses to creance comes undone with surprising simplicity too. Now I need to remove the swivel, the metal connector that keeps the jesses and leash attached. Both leather jesses are pulled through and wrapped around the swivel. This moment, this movement is where mistakes can happen. Take too long (easily done) and the hawk grows impatient and begins to pull away from you. Fumble the swivel and drop it to the ground and the attempt to retrieve it is enough to spook a young one like Chabhair.
All my own mindful advice is out the window. I’ve stopped breathing. Not sure how long it’s been since inhalation.
Undoing the jesses isn’t as smooth as the creance. A couple of jerks on the leather though and the swivel is free and in my pocket. Chabhair’s stare is still as pointed as ever.
Slowly, gently I put him back down on the fencepost. He settles as though it’s the only thing he’s ever known. I turn and begin the 50 feet I plan for him to fly. The first footsteps feel as though I have a gun levelled at my back. He could disappear at any moment. I let that thought float way and concentrate on my walking speed and posture. Exactly as before, no different. Don’t be tempted to go more quickly.
I don’t look over my shoulder. I daren’t. But my ears are like those of an owl, honed into every micro detail, sound and whisper behind me. I’m confident he hasn’t even ruffled his feathers let alone moved. And it is then that the excitement begins to build in me. This could go right.
If this did go right I would be experiencing a moment I had dreamed about since my youth. If this went right I would have proven I can overcome countless boundaries to reach for my dreams. I would be more focused, determined and resilient than I had ever given myself credit for. If this went right I would be a falconer. Dear God, that sounds amazing.
50 feet walked, following my long prints already left in the long grass. I turn, and he’s there. Unmoved. I don’t hurry myself, despite every fibre of my being screaming at me to do so. As though calm and relaxed I reach into my pocket and pull out some food. A larger piece than ever before – just to make sure. No sooner was it resting on the glove than he was off. Like a Lancaster bomber, steady, strong, low, fast and direct. He beat his wings four times, then drifts with intent. Then beating again he is within ten feet in only a couple of seconds, rising up above the long grass to the fist, his wings spread out like an eagle’s. I am momentarily lost in the ethereal. I am like a magician, this beautiful specimen under my spell. His feet rise high in front of him, talons first. The beautiful mix of cream, russet, brown and fiery red feathers on the underside of his wings are bewitching as they use the air to slow his flight. In one slick, powerful movement he lands on the chick, his head stooping down and tearing – a breakneck, Jurassic, ancient, frightening single movement.
He is here. He is mine. My heart is thudding. He chose me. I fumble desperately in my pocket for the swivel. The shakes are back. My mind feels like it has exploded. I did it. We did it. He is safely secured on the fist, now finishing the food and cleaning his talons with his beak. I breathe and take it in. He flew free. And I am a falconer.