Declan is bent over beating the shrubs. He twists to look upward at Rosie, then moves forward. Whack, crunch, the noise would shake the dead out of their hiding holes. When we move down the trail, Rosie flies to the top of a nearby tree. Declan straightens and shelters his eyes under a hand to look for her. “She’s doing exactly what she’s supposed to.” He cups his mouth and calls, “Come on, sweetie, I’ll find you a rabbit!”
Sweetie? How he can call that feathered killer sweetie is beyond me. Just as I’m about to tease him about it, the sound of bells rings out, and a red and white blur streaks past.
“She’s got one!” Declan high-steps through the brush to where Rosie disappeared in the thicket. A piercing squeal. I imagine what’s going on under the bush and keep back. Declan cautiously parts the branches and leans down to look. “Oh. That’s okay,” he consoles and reaches in to retrieve the bird. She’s covered with broken twigs and dead leaves. “It got away.”
Everyone is disappointed but me.
“I know another place,” he murmurs to her, brushing off the leaves. He walks ahead down a slope and crosses a dry creek bed. In one fluid movement, he lifts his arm and Rosie flies off it like an extension of his own body. She flies to a treetop and calls. Declan walks along, taking a whack at any bush close enough to reach without stepping into the brush. Rosie glides from treetop to treetop, following us.
I catch up with Declan and fall into step. “It’s amazing she does that. Follow us, I mean. Why doesn’t she just fly off?”
“We have a deal. Like a contract. I give her food, or help her find food, like today, and in exchange she hunts with me.”
“She must love you.”
When he turns to me, his blue eyes look brighter against the cloudless sky. “She doesn’t love anyone. It’s a business arrangement.” He checks her location and whistles for her to catch up. “I’m not kidding myself into thinking anything else. In a year or so, I’ll release her back to the wild.”
“You’re kidding!” I grab his sleeve to slow him down. “You’re going to let her go? Forever?”
He stops. “That’s the deal. She’s a young bird. Most of them die their first winter. Hunger, traffic, tangled in wires… I teach her to hunt, she survives, so I let her go in a year or two so she can breed more red tails.”
“A regular circle of life.” There’s a sarcastic edge to my voice I didn’t want to come out.
“They’re not horses, Reggie.” He starts walking.
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