Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Hawkling

It has been a long day, in large part because my dog has a keen eye, an enormous heart, and a papa who pays attention to him when he needs him to do so.

I was up a little before six and even though I tried to stay in bed and pretend I was still asleep, Pip and Olive, who must know the sounds of my breathing, both awake and asleep, were quite insistent about having their breakfast at the crack of dawn. So, after much coaxing and chin nuzzling, I climbed out of bed, fed the cats, who scurried around my feet and yowled in a near-perfect cacophony, got dressed and took Duncan out for our morning gallop through the park where we tend to the bunny roundup and play fetch until our bellies get the best of us and summon us home where we can eat our own breakfast.

It was a cool morning and the clouds were low but busy melting away as the sun rose higher in the bleached white sky. We had no shadows when we ventured out but by the time we returned an hour later they had grown into dark, solid things and the heat of the day was strong on my arms and cheeks as we ambled down The Run. The clouds had slunk away over the eastern plains but I could see fresh, white ones, whose bases I knew were dark, gathering just over the tallest peaks to the north and west of us. There would be good weather for much of the afternoon, but I knew the clouds would return before the sun would set on the other side of this day and from the look of them they would not remain silent.

The bird was sitting in the grass, unmoving and doing its best impersonation of a squat, round stone or a protuberance of Aspen root. I stepped right over it and continued on my way. It was only when I'd gone fifty or so feet that I noticed Duncan was no longer beside me. I turned and spotted him laying in the grass not far from Jeffrey's patio, his tail wagging, his ears up high and his eyes bright enough to catch the morning sun. I whistled and patted my thigh, his signal to come back to me, but he didn't. He barked softly and leaned his nose down into the tall grass to nudge something resting there. I saw a small brown shape lurch up and back uneasily away. I thought it was another bunny and hurried to him where I saw the baby hawk looking back up at me defiantly. Duncan's tail thumped again but he did not move and I did not think to put his leash back on him. After all, this was the dog who was twice kissed by a rabbit and then rescued another last year, carrying it like a kitten in his mouth.

When I leaned over it to check for wounds, it spread its wings and hissed at me. It's bright feathers looked fine, his legs strong and solid, his eyes bright and alert. His only fault, it seemed, was his reticence for flight. Still, with Jeffrey's adopted feral cat lurking about I thought it best not to leave him in the middle of the grass so I scooped his soft weight into the palm of my hands and placed him in the deep shadows of the low shrubs where the gray and brown little birds roost and sing. I logged a call with the Wildlife Division of the State Highway Patrol and told them I'd found an injured hawkling and then spent much of the next two hours sitting near the shrubs, my eyes scanning the shadows along the edge of the building for the cat. Duncan sat next to me, rolling on his back, his paws scraping away the last of the morning's clouds, his big pink tongue lolling out. Once or twice he peeked his face into the shrubs to check in with our little friend, his tail wagging happily when he'd found him. But he never lunged, never barked and always moved very cautiously and deliberately. And the bird somehow sensed that we intended no harm, that even fox-colored Roo had only his well-being in mind, so he climbed slowly so as not to be heard, up through the thick growth until he could peek his head through the green and watch us while we watched him.

Officer Joe finally arrived at ten. By then the hawk had climbed through the shrubs and was perched on top of them, looking around, the sun painting the rich feathers on his chest and tail a vivid red, keeping us within its sights, occasionally hissing but not moving. Joe pointed out that it was not a hawk but an American Kestrel, which, despite being quite common around here, I have never seen but hear almost every time Roo and I venture out. (Also, I'd like to add, a Kestrel is a hawk, the smallest North American hawk, in fact, and is also commonly referred to as a Sparrow Hawk.)

With Joe looking on and telling me what to do, I scooped the thing up, holding it in my palms on its back. We stroked its head and belly and even though it hissed at us it never snapped or bit. In fact, it was quite calm throughout the entire ordeal. With Duncan plodding along beside us, I placed the bird into the Maple below Brady's patio and watched as it stood steady a moment and then slipped out of the tree, opened its wings and flew fifty or so feet, alighting on the ground near the fence, which he quickly darted under, vanishing into the long grass not far from my favorite Russian Olive tree.

"He's hours away from flying," Joe explained, turning his head and scanning the roofs and trees nearby. "Mom and Dad are probably around here somewhere, so you shouldn't worry too much. They'll look out for him. That's what they do." We shook hands, he left and I knocked on Jeffrey's door to ask if he'd mind keeping his cat in for the rest of the afternoon.

A few hours later we ambled down The Run again and who should Duncan bump into, perched at the very edge of Jeffrey's patio––his feral rescue and her three kittens sitting on the other side of the sliding glass door, their tails thumping––but our Kestrel friend. Duncan barked softly to catch my attention and then sighed loudly, as though annoyed that the little thing had willingly returned to the most dangerous spot in which he could seek shelter. I scooped him up again, placed him at the edge of the fence in the deep grass and watched as he trudged away, indignant and Hobbit-like, into the dense and shadowed green. Mom and Dad were indeed watching. They circled above my head then swept down low to where he settled and called back at me. I hurried to Jeffrey's door to urge him once again to keep the cat indoors but he wasn't home, so I rushed back to my apartment––Duncan tagging along, his tail swishing up wakes in the grass––to write a note, which I taped to Jeffrey's door.

And now that the clouds have come, turning the sky dark and mountainous, and the rain and thunder are rocking the apartment and igniting the evening sky, I can only sit at my desk and look out on the place on the other side of the fence where I saw last saw him huddled in the tall, unkept grass, his parents skittering nearby, their cries piercing the storm. I hope he is safe, that Jeffrey's cat will stay indoors, and that by the time the sun finds Duncan and me on our walk tomorrow morning, he will have found his wings and will be perched atop one of the nearby buildings watching us, the smell of my hands still clinging to his feathers, the tender smile and gentle eyes of Duncan still fresh in his memory.


Marlies Painter said...

What a warm story Curt. I love to read your writing. Although I am no fan of birds...I'm glad you saved him.

David said...

What an extraordinary day you had! And how beautifully you wrote about it. I hope that in days to come your new friend will soar above you in thanks as you walk with Duncan.

Boondocks said...

What amazing pics!! So nice to meet you. We'll be back!!

Boondocks and Kudzu

Greg said...

You and that dog are the most beautiful pair ever. I love this story, even more for having read the follow-up post about him coming back to say thanks.