Who can tell the precise moment he falls in love? Surely it is a thing that grows, sometimes springing up mushroom-like overnight, or imperceptibly like full bloom from bud.
It is nearly forty years since I saw my first falcon, and now I can not remember when it became my ambition to own, and train one myself.
For a long time they have been an integral part of my life, bringing me joy and sorrow, excitement and disappointment. The sight of a falcon never fails to quicken my senses and to give me a certain feeling of affinity with them.
Outside the window, under the apple trees on the lawn, sits one now. At the moment she is tied by her leash to a block of neatly turned wood. She has had her morning bath and is sitting, wings and tail spread, letting the sun, as it filters through the leaves, dry her feathers. Soon she will preen herself, not out of vanity, but so that, when she is flown presently, her plumage will be in readiness.
I have had her for some fifteen months, taking her myself from her cliff-ledge eyrie in the north of Scotland. She was then about a month old and not quite able to fly. I have manned her and trained her and attended as best I know to her wants, and in her turn she has rewarded me.
She has finished preening now, and sits on her block waiting patiently, her long wings crossed, a bloom on her back like that on an untouched plum. Each primary overlaps its fellow in a perfection of streamlining that no man-made thing can ever equal.
Her dark eyes take in every movement, from the pointers on the lawn, yawning aloud their boredom, to a wild buzzard wheeling high up over the distant larch wood. Her flank feathers puffed out, one yellow foot drawn up underneath, even in so static a position she is a pleasure to look at.
But it is later on when I fly her free of all encumbrances except for her jesses — the leather straps round her legs and bells, that there comes the full appreciation of her power and beauty.
Strapping on my lure-bag and taking glove and hood, all tools of my trade as a professional falconer, I go to pick her up. The pointers, their boredom vanished, show their excitement by bounding to-wards me. The falcon too knows what is in the wind, jumps eagerly to my outstretched glove and lets me hood her.
Away on the hill we go quietly about our business. Leash and swivel are removed from the falcon’s jesses, and the dogs need no encouragement to range over the heather in search of the grouse that live in this open, almost treeless, moorland.
We skirt the edge of the lochan, bright and blue as a new pair of jeans, and, as we climb slowly up to the height of land past the ruins of some crofts, the older dog comes suddenly on a point.
There is no need for haste. She will stay there, if necessary, for half an hour or more, her mouth open slightly, sucking in the scent of whatever is in front of her. Her tail quivers, though, and tells me that either a blue-hare or one of the few surviving rabbits is not far off. If she were pointing grouse her tail would he still. Neither of these would interest the falcon, so the young dog is called to heel lest she give chase in youthful exuberance, and the old dog is sent in to flush. Sure enough, up gets a blue-hare and goes off uphill in that curious hop, skip and jump that is its natural gait. It stops on the skyline, sitting up on its hind legs to get a better look at us, and, deciding that discretion is the better part of valour, disappears over the top.
The two dogs continue their quartering of the ground, both, I am pleased to see, ignoring the hare’s scent.
We reach the outcrop of rock on the top, add another stone to the cairn there, and pause for a spell to get our breath back.
In the distance the Firth sparkles in the sun and the hills beyond are dear and sharp-cut against the sky. The tide is nearly full and Win be washing the seals off the sandbanks where they have been basking, and bringing in with it the fish for them to hunt.

By Isan Lu

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