Looking for a beautiful girl


She disappeared for a while today.

Not Roo. She disappears down mouse holes every day. It was this red tail hawk who disappeared.

We've been camped in some woods in western Maryland, and the more the temperature dropped recently, the more Roo liked it. She kept swimming until it about 30 degrees, and then only stopped because I asked her to, and I only asked her to because adding a wet dog to a freezing camper is a bad idea. I know this, because it happens all the time.

But the upshot of the cold is that Roo is willing to go outside for a pee. She likes to charge into the forest and bark at everyone out there. There is no one out there, in reality. She just feel invigorated and enjoys showing off. When she comes back I tell her what a brave girl she is, and she likes that, too.

Yesterday morning, it was about 25 degrees or so, and Roo went outside to lie down for a nap. She was exhausted from sleeping all night. 

From inside the camper I heard her bark at someone. Tentatively, just a couple of woofs, delivered in a mild tone, as if she wasn't sure she was overstepping but wanted to let someone know she was keeping an eye on them. I took a look, and just down the hill from us, a falconer was flying this stunning red tail hawk. I've never seen anyone do this before. The falconer looked up in our direction, and though he was too polite to say anything, it was obvious that the bird wouldn't come down from the trees with a wolf like Roo nearby, so I stuffed her back in the trailer. That was fine with her, because the issuance of two woofs so early in the day had exhausted her and she wanted to go back to bed. 

A few minutes later, Lou, the falconer stopped by to show me the bird.

She's a three-and-a-half pound miracle, half superior aerodynamic design, half pure badass. She is who I often wish I could be. A better flyer than any human will ever be and without the FAA to haunt her.

The falconer takes her out most days to hunt. She picks squirrels off as if they were brass rings at a merry-go-round. They never see her coming. She is able to swoop down as pick them out of midair as they hop from tree to tree, as they run on the ground or climb trees. Once she sights one in, the squirrel becomes her dinner.

She returns, with her catch, to her human. Why she would isn't clear to me. She could just go and eat the squirrel and be done with him. But she doesn't. She comes back, he gets the squirrel from her, and then she gets it back for dinner later. I asked the falconer how he got the bird, and he said he trapped her. They set up a net enclosure and lure the bird in with bait. Then they feed the bird those little chicks they love, and they loosen up.

I don't know anything about this, so I'm not going to judge. Offhand, it seems like a hawk would prefer not to be caught like that, but she does, after all, return to him. I asked him if he thought she liked him, and he said he didn't think so. He didn't think her mind operated that way. She was in it for the same reason the Beatles formed a band — for the chicks. The falconer feeds them to her. She also eats whatever she kills and brings back to him, though she gets that later. Why a bird agrees to this I don't know.

While we were talking, the red tail was calm. She didn't care that I was there. She didn't display any indication of nervousness, which I guess is what it takes to be such a high-performance creature in the first place. Every once in a while she would spread her wings and decide to fly off, but Lou was holding onto her claws until he was ready to let her go for another round of hunting.

I asked him if she liked him or if it was all about the chicks he fed her, and he said it was all about the chicks. They acclimate quickly to captivity, they eat well, are cared for, and then released. Like I say, I don't know, and maybe it's miserable for the bird, but she gets the chance to escape all the time, and doesn't.

Or at least, she didn't, until now. Lou stopped by the camper the next day to ask if I had seen her or heard her. I hadn't. He said shed been gone about a half hour. 

I was glad to have met her. Red tail hawks are all over the country, but I've never seen one this close. She is, of course, magnificent, in looks and bearing. She is confident and strong and an efficient weapon whose hunting takes place at high speed, flying through obstacles. When you're near her, she doesn't try to avoid eye contact. She looks you right in the eye. Sizes you up. Realizes you can't fly like she can. Figures she's the better bird. She's right and she knows it.

Lou looked for her for a couple of hours. Evidently, she was just hunting, and it hadn't gone well. She hadn't eaten. When he called to her, she came right back and landed on his arm.

She goes free in the spring.

We leave tomorrow. It has become way too cold to stay. It's unmanageable. It takes huge amounts of work to keep things warm and to manage everything. I'm not sure where we're going. We're looking for some kind of place to live. We have to get out of this camper. It was the worst mistake I ever made. It's spiraled completely out of control. The hawk was right. I'm not the flyer she is. She would never hit the ground the way we are.

The Red Tail with Lou.

The Red Tail with Lou.