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Dance of Hawk and Man

THE sun came up over the dark mass of rock that topped Greenhorn Mountain. I got up and walked out to the densest, tallest grass in the yard and walked through it barefooted. It was dry. Down by the river, where the swathers were waiting for us to resume cutting hay, there might be more dew, but it was the driest night I'd seen since we started cutting. We were hard pressed to stay ahead of the rakes and the baling machine, and the grass was dry enough to cut, so I rousted Jim from the cabin where he was

sleeping during haying season. We breakfasted and headed up the river and cut hay.

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Late afternoon, we finished cutting the piece north of the river. We had to transfer all our machines up and across the river, about a half-mile, to the next area we were going to cut.

Jim drove the tractor, pulling the wagon with all our tools, spare parts, and fuel on it. I transferred from the swather to the motorcycle and caught him just as he started into the forested area where the river turns south.

As I rode up beside the wagon, my dog ran ahead of the tractor, turned at full speed, and knocked down a red-tailed hawk that had just taken to wing. I yelled just before he hit the bird, and that was enough to make him pull his punch and veer away as the hawk hit the ground.

Jim and I got to the hawk, a young red-tailed, at the same moment, and the dog stayed at a distance. The hawk spread its wings and opened its mouth in threat. When we got quite close, it tipped onto its back and extended its talons. I said, "Looks like it can't keep its balance."

"No, I think he does that to show us all his weapons at once."

"It isn't trying to get away."

"He won't try to fly while we're here. Taking off is when he's most vulnerable, and he knows that. You got a handkerchief?"

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I gave him my handkerchief and he dropped it over the hawk's head and picked the bird up and wrapped the cloth around its head. The hawk sat up straight, with a firm grip on Jim's leather-gloved hand. "His balance is OK."

Jim ran his fingers lightly over the bird's wings, back, and legs. "I don't think he's hurt."

He removed the handkerchief and handed it back to me. The hawk and Jim looked into each other's eyes. Jim moved the hand the hawk was standing on. The hawk flexed its neck and body so that its head stayed in the same place. Jim moved his hand in the other direction, and the hawk held its grip on his hand but kept its head in as close to the same place as possible. He moved his hand up and down and side to side and around in circles, and always the hawk flexed so his head stayed in the same place. All thr ough the strange-looking, dance-like motions, they were locked on each other's eyes.

Jim stopped all the motion. He extended his arm full-length. They looked at each other, and then the hawk turned its head away from contact with Jim's eyes and flew, up, curved gracefully around two lodgepole trees and up the meadow above the river, out of sight.

Cutting hay was not a favorite for either of us among all the varied ranch work we did. It was hot and dirty work, long days running rough-riding machines, but it had its high points that we would remember for a long time. We stood there for a few minutes, savoring that one.

The sun dropped toward Cottonwood Butte. We went back to what we'd been doing. It would be nearly dark by the time we finished.

Laura would have supper ready for us. Our daughters, Juniper and Amanda, would be nearly ready for bed, but they would be waiting for Jim and me to come in, to see if we had any adventures during that day's work to tell them about. We did have. We had stories to tell as we washed up and ate.

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