It was still dark when the man awoke. In the front of his van, he could see the dark silhouette of the great hunting hawk, head tucked back in sleep. He stirred to light the stove, and the bird woke. Firelight illuminated her amber eyes and slid along the smooth black curves of powerful beak and talons.
Through the window he could see scattered clouds and a few stars. He was glad. It had rained hard the day he came to the mountains, and two days after that. He had come to hunt grouse with his goshawk; instead, he was forced to sit in his van, passing time as best he could. Today, despite the bitter cold, they would hunt.
He watched the hawk carefully as he prepared his gear. She was impatient, gripping the perch with her strong yellow feet. The cold made her hungry and ready to fly. He drew on the heavy, scarred leather glove. The hawk jumped to it eagerly, gulping the tidbit of meat he offered.
It was nearly dawn when the pair of hunters set out across the icy field. They left a trail of darker green in the wet grass. Spiders hung in crystalled webs like bejewelled nightmares.
Carefully, with numb fingers, he removed the goshawk's leash and swivel. Holding the bird high on his glove, he slowly walked through the field, kicking at clumps of weeds with his heavy boots. The hawk shook her feathers vigorously. jangling the bells tied to her legs. The man paused when she bobbed her head.
"Ho!" He shouted as she launched from the glove. A rabbit shot from a weedy tangle and hurtled down a slope toward a pile of dead timber at the edge of the wood. The hawk banked, folded her wings, and dove. Hawk and rabbit came together by the woodpile; with a last, desperate effort the rabbit evaded the hawk's talons. The hawk pitched up into a tree. A puff of rabbit fur drifted down in the calm air.
A quarter mile away, the man watched his hawk leave her perch and circle out over the field. He held up a piece of meat on the glove and whistled to her. She wasn't interested in his cold chicken; she was hunting. Ignoring the man, she circled the field again and disappeared over the trees. The man was alone.
He spent the rest of the day in a futile searchS for his hawk, swinging the lure and calling for her. Often he would stop, listening in vain for the jingling of hawk bells. Finally, cold and hungry, he returned to the van.
The next morning was the same. He was walking along the border of the woods when he found a wet clump of fur clinging to a twig. Worried, he searched the area for signs of a kill. If the hawk had fed, she would not return to him. Finding no signs of a kill, he moved on, stopping to whistle and listen for bells.
Deep in the woods, he rested on a fallen tree. Far away, he could hear blue jays scolding something, and then; the unrnistakeable ringing of hawk bells. Seconds later, he was plunging through the trees toward the sound. Panting, he stopped and angrily threw down his glove as the bells faded deeper into the woods and disappeared. He stood alone in the silence.
He heard the bells again later, on the other side of a deep gorge. They rang out clearly over the sound of water rushing far below. Once, he thought he saw her shadow flickering through the trees. With new hope, he half ran, half slid down the muddy bank, catching at small trees to slow his descent.
It was cold and wet in the gorge. He slithered deeper, down into the gloom. Suddenly, his falconry bag caught on a snag, making him lose his balance. He pitched forward head first and tumbled helplessly down the steep bank. Finally he crashed into a pine tree and lay at its base, stunned. He wiped a trickle of blood from his forehead. Slowly he reached out one hand and gripped a branch to pull himself up. As he put more weight on the branch, the tree shifted. Days of heavy rains had cut deep gullies around the pine's roots. In many places the soil had washed away, leaving them exposed. He tugged harder, heaving himself to his feet. As he stood there trying to clear his head, the pine slowly toppled over, knocking him to the ground and pinning him in the mud.
When the fog cleared from his mind, he began to consider his situation. He couldn't move. People knew where he was; he'd been planning this trip for weeks. His van was parked on the road; he figured he was about two miles away. Someone would be looking for him soon. He was a day late in returning already, but he couldn't leave his bird in the mountains. Perhaps they would find him tomorrow. He wished he could move his arms, but the fallen tree held him down.
He struggled wildly for a moment in panic, his shouts and screams muffled by the thick trees and falling water in the gorge.
He lay there in the afternoon with closed eyes, praying the sun would reach him soon. There was a sudden ringing over his head. He opened his eyes. On a branch high above him, the goshawk watched. She looked ragged and hungry. A couple of tail feathers hu ng askew, broken in a futile pursuit of game. Her wings hung down a bit. She was weary, starving after two days without food. Their eyes met. For an hour, the man stared into those merciless golden orbs.
With growing horror, the man watched his hawk shift her weight from foot to foot, half spreading her wings and closing them again. As a falconer, he knew well the signs. Frantically he tried to free his arms; in his struggles he re-opened the gash on his forehead and blood flowed. The hawk made up her mind. Opening her wings, the bird descended in a steep glide. Presently the screams stopped, and the hawk began to feed.