In this excerpt from my book Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks, I share the story of the first time that the northern harrier hawk named Thalia came flying to land on my glove. Thalia lived at a wildlife rehabilitation center where she’d been trained to work with humans to do bird of prey education programs. I was learning how to work with her to become her caretaker. Annie was Thalia’s current custodian who was handing the reins over to me…
One afternoon in warm spring weather, I met Annie out at Willow Brook. This was to be our last day together with Thalia because Annie was leaving to do field research for the summer. I had asked her to meet with me not only because I wanted a chance to say goodbye, but also because I wanted hands-on instruction on how to fly Thalia.
I walked with Annie as she carried Thalia down the road to the corridor lawn and A-frame perch. She walked me through the procedure for hooking the flying line up to Thalia’s jesses and narrated as she called Thalia to her glove a handful of times. Thalia was focused and obedient, hitting the mark every time. I watched and listened, diligently trying to pick up every nuance of Annie’s methods. I’d seen this all before, but would now have to put it to use.
Annie set the brunette hawk on the perch and walked over to hand me the pouch of food and flying line. I made sure to get everything set up as I needed it. We watched the harrier out of the corner of our eyes to make sure she was still. Thalia sat nonchalantly, facing straight ahead.
I walked in an arch to a point twenty to twenty-five feet away and turned my back to the bird. I kept my hands in front of me and out of her view while stuffing a large chunk of meat into my gloved hand. I double-checked the line to make sure it was firmly under my left foot. Both of my feet were firmly planted in the grass, shoulder width apart. There was little room for doubt here. Thalia wouldn’t think of flying towards a shred of fear. I took a breath in and let it out, feeling my energy sink into the ground. If I’m going to be a raptor perch, I need to stand rooted like a tree, I thought to myself. I raised my left hand out parallel to the ground, held steady, looked over my left shoulder, and whistled.
Thalia crouched, her body tense but lithe. Every feather on her body lay smooth in the instant before her wings extended and legs pushed off. Now she was five times the size I’d ever seen her before. I stood from the perspective of a mouse, surprised to a standstill. Her wings drew in and out with my breath. One beat and a quick glide. Two beats and I could feel her stare penetrate my soul. Stretched across my entire line of vision was this fabulous creature. Just as I was sure she was coming straight at my head, she rotated a fingertip. The sound of her feet hitting the leather of my glove was deafening. The clutch she had on my hand was crushing. I reminded my lungs to draw in air while the huntress devoured her prey.
This was a split in the canvas where the world around was no more and I stood with both feet in another. Here was the infinite spirit I knew lived within this crippled body. Through this vision she’d offered me a direct link to the vastness beyond the mundane. A sense of hope, which I hadn’t felt since I couldn’t remember how long, welled into the beaming smile on my face. I now held in my heart a true vision of my own soul along with that of my dear friend. She had leapt over that last gap between my true promptings and myself. What a miraculous gift. I carefully slipped back through the veil and turned to face Annie. She was smiling.
I repeated this profound exercise a handful more times until Thalia and I both lost our focus. It was exhausting to hold such sacredness amidst the weight of the reality we were bound to. She flew past my glove and landed in the grass beyond.
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.