Sometimes, a soul enters into our lives and profoundly touches us. Sometimes, that soul which touches ours walks the planes of this life for many steps. Other times, the luminosity of that soul is so intense that mere hours within its white-hot radius is such that we know our lives have been profoundly changed.
I was blessed and honored and granted a few hours with such a soul this past week in Tennessee. While on our way to purchase a few more building materials for the homestead, I saw an injured young hawk on the roadside. I told my friend Jacque to stop and because she’s as much of an animal lover as I am, she did. We went back to where I had seen this young hawk and he was still sitting on the shoulder of the Natchez Trace. I grabbed a blanket off the back seat of the quad cab and Jacque and I very carefully corralled this hawk into a position where I could toss the blanket over him to safely (for both the bird and myself) pick him up.
It was more than apparent he had a broken wing. Not sure what to do with him, we decided to take him with us to the building supply store and along the way we picked up a wooden crate at a fabric store as well as thin sheet of fine veneer to put over the crate so he could sit up without being confined in a heavy blanket in the 90 plus temperatures. We also stopped at a small drug store to get an eye dropper, bottled water and a jar of baby food (all chicken). He was very thirsty and he ate some of the offered baby food. All good signs but also indicative that this was still a very young bird, perhaps just very recently fledged. Some research later in the Audubon bird book and a little more by Jacque on the Internet determined this young hawk to be an immature Coopers.
On the way home, because he was taking food and water, we stopped at a pet store to buy a feeder mouse. By this time, we had named him. He became Merlin. And, I was losing a part of my heart to him. When I turned around to talk to him, he would cock his head from side to side—as if he was attempting to understand what I was saying. Knowing that these birds of prey have not only incredible eyesight but acute hearing, I talked in a low, soft voice to him. He continually made eye contact and there were a few times I think he was trying to figure out how the landscape could be speeding past him while he was not flying.
If you have never looked into the eyes of a bird of prey, add it to your bucket list. Be aware, though, that gaze will cut clean to your soul. There is an intensity there, a piercing quality, combined with an amazing intelligence. And, in the case of this young bird, there was trust. Merlin never once offered to bite either my friend or me. He willingly sat on my lap. When I petted his head, he half closed his eyes and leaned in closer to my fingers. If I stroked his mottled breast, I could feel his heart rate slow. This wild animal took comfort from a gentle touch and a soft voice.
When we returned to Jacque’s home, it was too late in the evening to contact anyone at the DNR regarding this beautiful bird. We placed Merlin in the large parrot cage Jacque had, fed him the feeder mouse and even though it was a little disturbing to know we were sacrificing one life to attempt to save another, Merlin quickly pounced on the feeder mouse and ate it. Within a few moments, I had taught him to drink from the water cup in the cage by offering him water from the dropper and letting him follow the tip of the dropper into the cup.
When Merlin had drunk his fill from the cup, he hopped of his own accord into the parrot cage and up onto the lowest perch and began to preen. Jacque has raised birds for more than fifty years and everything in her experience said this was a bird that would live, in spite of his injuries. Sick or stressed birds don’t drink, eat, or preen. I placed the water cup in its holder in the cage, and because it was dusk, wished Merlin a good night.
During the night, Merlin died. An examination of his fragile body revealed his wing was broken from a gunshot. The bullet had entered from below, went through the muscling in his leg and then through his wing in two places, breaking the wing near his shoulder. Jacque and I buried him in a safe place in the woods, where he won’t be discovered by scavengers and where his delicate bones can rest without ever being disturbed.
For twelve hours, I had the trust of this little, young, Coopers hawk. For twelve hours, his sharp gaze looked into my heart and my soul. For twelve hours, his last contact with the same species who had stolen his ability to fly and ultimately his life, was marked with respect, with care, with love, and with honor. If only he had been granted those things prior to being shot.
Fly free, little Merlin, fly free.