This week, when I asked my first year students why they came to Small Green School, one young man said, "It's the only school that would let me bring my hawk." His hawk? Yep. He is a falconer. He'd made special arrangements with OrnithologistGuy, who is on our faculty, and the red-tailed hawk is now living in a room at the top of the science building.
So this afternoon after class, a handful of students and I met Falconer in the big, park-like cemetery that adjoins our campus. Falconer held up a thick cowhide glove – a gauntlet, he called it – and told me to put it on my left hand. Following his directions, I stood still, with my arm raised in front of my face, my hand just a little higher than my elbow. He stuffed a piece of raw chicken between my thumb and fingers. Then he whistled to the hawk that was perched on a rock across the grassy lawn.
The hawk flew into the air, straight towards me, fast, and then landed lightly on the glove, just inches from my face. His sharp talons gripped the thick glove as he balanced, and he reached down with his hooked beak to rip apart the meat, swallowing it in a few gulps. His eyes, spaced on either side of his head, seemed to see everything as he swivelled his head about. A hawk's eyesight is eight times better than a human's. When I shifted my hand, the hawk opened his gorgeous brown-and-white wings, flapping until he was balanced again.
Today was a long day which included meeting a student at 8 am in my office, teaching three sections of my writing course, meeting with advisees, getting together with a colleague to sort through archival material, meeting with several independent study students, and teaching a 5 pm seminar. But what I am remembering from the day was that single moment -- standing in the cemetery watching the wings of a red-tailed hawk open.