Tomorrow, we head to Bristol. We’ll spend a week there, and then head to London for another week, before coming back to St Andrews. That means waking up at early o’clock tomorrow, which means I should already be in bed, but right now, I don’t care about any of that, because I’ve just met my first hawk.
It’s Thursday night. We went to the pub to see a friend who’ll be gone by the time we get back. We stayed, we talked, we drank a bit, and then we headed home. Walking through the city, inebriated undergraduates were everywhere, roaming in packs. And then I stopped, because there was something in the road, occupying a space usually inhabited by parked cars.
It was a hawk.
It was there, and it was strange, and it was beautiful. And then the man to whom it belonged – older, slender, Scottish – got out of his Jeep, smiled, and asked if I’d like a closer look. I thought he was offering to hold it up for me, give me an inspection that way. Instead, he handed me a thick leather falconer’s glove, which I put on my left hand. Then he bent down, undid the hawk’s jesses – red, with silver bells – and placed her on my outstretched arm.
Her name was Amy, he said. She is five years old, and a harrier hawk. And when he raised my other hand to touch her, she felt like satin.
The man has four birds right now, he said: two harriers, a kind whose name I didn’t catch, and a peregrine. He likes harriers because of their intelligence; they for live up to 25 or even 30 years, and are easy to train.
Like Amy the hawk.
He asked nothing for the privilege of holding the bird. Of all the people who stopped to look, I don’t know why he singled me out to hold her – maybe it was because I had a camera, or because I was visibly less drunk than the raucous students shrieking at the sight of the bird in the road. But in a night overcome with noise, both man and hawk were a pool of quiet, as though they’d stepped out of a different world. I don’t know why he was there, though our friend said afterwards that man and bird are known local quantities. When I handed Amy back, my arm wobbled slightly, and she reacted by stretching her wings, flapping briefly, yellow feet digging into the leather glove. I didn’t feel a thing. And then the falconer smiled, and I smiled back, and we walked away, leaving him surrounded by a staring crowd.
I love Scotland.