“Fly little bird, fly!” Gently he removed the leather hood from her head and with a flick of his wrist he set the Peregrine Falcon off on her flight. With confidence he released her, knowing that she will soon return to him. Squinting against the sun he watched her soar as the thermal current took her higher and higher, the faint chime of her bells carried to him on the wind. As she spiraled against the clear blue sky, he knew that he was her focal point, as she was his. She was not out for the hunt but to spread her wings, to get the necessary exercise to keep her fit and in peak condition. She soared on the updraft as high as it would take her and as she started losing altitude she sought another thermal to give her height again. He kept his eye on her, aware that at any time she could be carried away by a strong wind or a larger bird of prey. There was always a risk involved in releasing her, just as there was in not letting her go. That was the quandary of their relationship.

Their relationship was one of collaboration. She traded her freedom for food, shelter and protection while she assisted him in hunting, giving him the opportunity to showcase his skills as falconer and as hunter, as well as asserting his manliness. It was a relationship of mutual trust – her trusting him that he would feed and protect her; him trusting that she would return to his fist.

She stayed up in the sky, a pin prick against the azure backdrop, until she saw him move his hand towards the leather pouch on his hip. With renewed intensity she focused on his hand. His hand dipped into the pouch to remove a day old chick. Clutching the chick in his fist he extended his arm, offering the food to her. He was familiar with the routine. On spotting the food, she would immediately draw back her wings to a narrow point and then take a lightening dive in the direction of his offering. At the very last moment she would bring her wings back forward to slow her down and she would gently take the meat from his fist and fly off to the nearest perch where she would feed.

As he gauged her height, he calculated that it would take her about five seconds before she would take the offering from his hand. Silently he counted down, his eyes on the tiny dot in the sky. But on this day the soaring speckle did not turn into a speeding arrow. Scanning the sky for her form, he spotted her still in her circular glide. He kept his arm extended, the tiny morsel still an offering but she did not break out of the current where she was afloat. Fear gripped his heart.

He knew that he was careful in the control of the young falcon’s weight. To his estimation she was neither over nor underweight. He was perplexed by her behavior. There was no reason for her to break their routine. He had captured her during the fall two years prior and they have been hunting together for the last two spring seasons. They had a good hunting season and as spring turned into summer he was satisfied with the relationship that had developed between the two of them. He attended well to her and took meticulous care in her maintenance. He ensured that she was well fed, healthy and manned. On her part she precisely responded to his prompt. He was bewildered by the sudden change in habit.

He kept his eye on the blue dome high above his head. He could clearly spot her in her spiral dance between thermals. She was close enough for him to see, but she was far beyond his reach. He returned the chick to the satchel and dropped his hand to his side. There was only one thing that he could do now – he had to trust and wait for her to come back to him.

From the upper region where the updrafts took her, the falcon had the perfect view of her handler. She knew him well by now and was familiar with ever one of his movements. She readied herself for the hunting dive the moment he reached for the satchel on his hip. Her inner navigation was momentarily disturbed by an undercurrent that she was unfamiliar with. During her flights the previous couple of days she detected faint nuance of the same current that was now urging her to change her course and flight direction. She did not take her eyes of the falconer’s hand. He extended his hand and her instinct dictated her to take the hunting dive, but in the moment before drawing back her wings, the subcurrent became the overruling principle and she forgone on her first instinct. Suspended in weightless glide, the recently discovered current reverberated through her tiny body and her DNA responded to it new orientation. With a final glare in the direction of the falconer, she lifted her gaze towards the horizon from where the urgent call came and with precision her ancient homing device placed her on course. She did not look back or down, her gaze now fixed forward as she, with a gentle flap of her wings, set out on her journey back home.

©Copyright Micelle Coetsee 2016




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