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Of Hawks & Of Humans

by Featherstone

Note: this is an assignment for an English class due on the 30th, so any reviews before then would be GREATLY APPRECIATED! The assignment is to "Write an essay about when you’ve experienced the paradox of happiness. That means some event has caused you to feel opposing emotions, more than one at the same time." There's a huge emphasis on 'show, don't tell.' Any feedback, particularly related to these two things, would be wonderful! Be savage; this needs to be the best paper I can possibly make it. Also, please keep in mind that this is as long as we're allowed to make it almost to the word. Thank you!


Sickle-shaped onyx talons press against my fingers, leaving dimples in the olive leather that protects my flesh. Yellowish scales trace their way up slim tarsi and disappear into cream and rufous feathers that decorate his underparts. This becomes a mottled dark brown over his belly that is nearly black in stark contrast to the snow white of his chest. His countenance, covered with umber feathers smaller than my pinky nail, is turned stern by the orbital ridges set over his eyes and his hooked, slate-gray beak. A pale gaze that is the same color as the brownish-white bark of the nameless orchard trees around us survey our surroundings with a kind of piercing ferocity that can only be described as draconian. That is, after all, what he is to me — a real-life dragon. Savage and powerful as Mother Nature herself: a living embodiment of her cruelty and ruthlessness but also her beauty and her majesty.

A hawk seems to me to be the absolute epitome of all things of instinct. Of the most core parts of the wilds that humans shy away from, yet we live every day. The savage joy, the momentous fears, the steadfastness of survival, the living of life in the moment. Perhaps, too, the truths of our humble human society: the fragility of power written in an apex predator that could drop in the blink of an eye, that can succumb to unforeseen disease like the delicate truth of human existence; feathers that reveal how one must bend so they don’t break and yet can only flex so far, as evidenced by the missing tips of a few flights; the purity of instinct despite how sanguinary it can prove to be; most of all, though, the wings that, if we embrace, allow us to soar and fly free, the source of true joy. It was, perhaps, why I’d fallen in love with raptors at eight years old. They are as tamable as jagged mountains tipped in ice or the howling gale that whistles through a desert canyon. You can trap a hawk, but never can you bend it forcefully to your will.

Jeff, the man who’s taught me the ins and outs of our ancient craft of falconry, stands nearby. The burning titian tip of his cigarette turns gray and smoke spirals up from the colorless dirt as the toe of his camouflage Muck boot crushes it. It’s because of him that my eyes still see all the marvels surrounding us, even on this monotone morning — the beauty in the whiteness of the wandering sheep and the muted emerald hue of the grass they traverse or the dimmed light of a blazing sun giving life to the field that thrives around us with its looming grasses and cultivated trees. It can even be found in the dull brown-gray plants that thrive in the undergrowth to hide rabbits and other prey from the searching eyes of predators. It’s a blanket of safety that we seek to diminish so that we can have a successful hunt in all its crimson glory and heart-rending suffering cut short by human compassion.

I’ve waited for this day for years. I’ve let myself be betrayed and hurt, given my soul and my blood freely for a single purpose: to have this partnership with a bird of prey. I’ve sacrificed the life that my friends have for moments like this. Let go of the stupid fun and the giggling laughter over internet cats. Yet, I couldn’t be happy nor fulfilled that way, and though the sacrifice hurts, I know it in the deepest part of my being to be worth it.

Even so, I can feel my heart thundering in a tightened chest. My stomach itself has contorted so intricately I daresay it’s more like celtic knot work than anything else. My breath is shallow and fast through a constricting throat, because all I can do is pray that this avian to whom I’ve given everything I have will choose to come back to me when he spreads his wings and flies without a tether for the first time. He is, after all, a creature of liberty and freewill. One cannot impose itself upon Nature, be it man, beast, or raging fire.

I begin to work the brush alongside my teacher. The orchard around us grows short but thick in a deceptively difficult maze of gnarled wood. Thick blackberry bushes make our path treacherous and long plant stalks taller than I am that grow between the trees make it challenging to see. They force me to raise the nine-hundred-gram weight that is my bird above my head, and I strain my muscles to do so.

The orchard opens into a field of calf-high grass and gray undergrowth broken with thorny bushes that come up to my waist. A tall tree with lush, green leaves in sharp contrast to the bare branches of the orchard trees behind me stands in the middle of this clearing. Red-tailed Hawks hunt best from a vantage point where they can drop upon their prey with folded wings and swift acceleration, smashing through the brush to seize their intended target. I can see in Nyx’s posture that he wishes to go there, standing with a raised head and his wings half-unfurled. I raise my glove to let him go to his preferred perch. Wind generated by the flurry of feathers and beating of wings brushes back the few stray hairs that escape my baseball cap as he leaps forth and ascends to the very top of the tree, looking down at me from above like a schoolboy observing his teacher in rapt attention.

I kick the bushes beneath him as the sun rises higher, melting the fog and dissipating the cloud cover. The world goes from muted hues of gray and brown to being full of brilliant golds, emeralds, and azures, painting a mural of wild fields, rolling hills, and rising trees. The vultures that had before been merely attempting to warm up now have taken to the air and soar above us with silver-tipped wings and plumage that’s such a deep chocolate it appears black at first glance.

My attempt at finding game is fruitless, however. Despite my best efforts, not a soul dares leave the safety of the bushes. I begin walking towards the next tree so I may work the following field and raise my glove to recall Nyx for the first time this day. If he chooses, now, not to return, then I will be without a bird once more. Yet somehow, my former nervousness is gone, replaced by some faith — no, intuition — that I’d awaken to the sound of his bells in the morning.

The moment my hand is in the air he, too, is aloft, stooping towards me with wings half-folded and focused solely on a single being: me. My heart soars higher even than the vultures and I feel that spark that was lit so many years ago spring into a raging bonfire as he makes contact and alights upon my upraised fist. This is happiness, pure as the intentions of my companion, pure as an inferno itself. This passion, this love, this teamwork with a beast as free and wild as the wind that I had captured and trained and learned to trust. This is what I live for, and in this moment, I am truly alive with my passion.

Perhaps this is what falconry, or maybe life, is about: letting go. Letting go of what you hold most dear and letting it come back to you instead of clipping its wings and forcing it to stay. To take the risk no matter how frightening and daring to fall so that you can fly, experiencing the fear so that you can hold the happiness. The two may seem opposing but, in truth, they are two aspects of the same sense of fulfillment.

I’ve given all I have to this raptor, body and soul. I’ve prayed, loved, laughed, cried, and even bled for him. Yet, more important than all of this, I released him and let him fly unfettered.

And my dragon has chosen to return.

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53 Reviews

Points: 15
Reviews: 53

Tue Jan 29, 2019 7:28 pm
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RavenBlack wrote a review...

Hi @Featherstone , Rav3nB1ack here!

I've got a background in English Literature, so I hope my feedback helps in one way or another :)

- The first thing that stood out to me is the length of your paragraphs. I was taught that paragraphs should be at least 6-8 lines long and some of your paragraphs go over that length and to be honest it's kind of off-putting and makes me not want to read it. I would suggest going through this again and looking where you can start a new paragraph, so it's much better to look at and easier to read.

- Truthfully, I'm not to eager on your first paragraph. Your use of description and metaphorical language made it seem like I was reading a creative piece than an essay and kind of threw me off guard. I know you used the description to showcase your love for wildlife and wanted to illustrate the beauty that you saw within them but for an opening to an essay, this neither answers your essay's question nor tells me what it's about which is the purpose of an introduction paragraph.

I would suggest moulding the second paragraph you wrote and into your introductory paragraph.

Another thing I've noticed is you use a lot of complex vocabulary, which I have no doubt that you know what it means but I don't think a lot of your readers will. I even had to google 'titian' myself to find out what you meant. I would suggest using vocabulary that your audience can understand because if they have to keep looking up words in a dictionary it can take them out of the flow of your piece.

I really like how you've written this piece, your description is really good and you've managed to capture your emotions really well. However, since this is an essay I don't think this form of writing is suitable. Like I said before, this feels more like a creative piece than an analytical one. I would suggest using what you've written here to rewrite this and ask yourself: What is happiness? What is the paradox of happiness? When did I experience these emotions? What does this represent? How did it make me feel?

I think by taking questions from your original question, you can use it has a guideline to structure your essay.

Sorry for pointing out a lot of the negatives of your piece, I hope I haven't offended you. I hope this helps and you do well when you have to give in your assignment.

Keep Writing x

The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal.
— H. L. Mencken