She was an advance person for National Public Television, on assignment on the Swiss-German border, in maybe the early ’80s, for a piece on the upper reaches of the Rhine River. On weekends she hung out with a Swiss engineer who rode motor cycles. I read to her from time to time over those last months. Sometimes we talked, sometimes I just listened. This particular time I just listened.
We had been, she said, up above Bargen, camping in this grove of little mountains. Late on Sunday afternoon we started down toward Schaffhausen and the main road west to Baslen, where the big river turns north onto its journey across Germany. The road out of the mountains ran parallel to a stream, as mountain roads are apt to do.
I first saw the hawk riding the thermals above the creek; sailing, hardly moving its wings. It was just off to the left, sometimes barely thirty feet away. We soon passed the hawk. I forgot about it. Then, at some point the road made a turn to the right, away from the stream bed. A minute later, coming out of the switch-back and getting again close to the creek, there was the hawk! still sailing downstream, downhill. It did not seem to be hunting, just enjoying a late afternoon outing.
Over the next twelve or fifteen kilometers that pattern repeated itself several times: we passed the hawk, then turned into a switch-back. Upon coming back to the creek bed we found that the hawk had caught up with and passed us again, having cut across the corners. I began to search the sky for her each time we came out of the curve, back toward the line of the flowing water.
“There she is!” I shouted into Nils’ ear when I spotted her against the sky. “What if it’s a male?” he asked. “No. It’s a mama bird … I know,” I assured him.
All too soon, she said, we reached the spot where the little mountain road turned away from the creek bed; headed west toward home and next week’s work. The hawk disappeared on toward Schaffhausen. The bike, a silver and black BMW as I recall, soon had us hard against the Rhine … a very different river there than it is up in the industrial north. Still, it was no longer a mountain stream. There were no hawks there to keep us company.
We, some thirty or so of her friends, gave her a rehabilitated female Red Tail for her fiftieth birthday, released it back into the wild … into a relatively large Land Conservancy plot just below and to the west of us, looking out toward the mountains. We watched the skies, especially late in the afternoon. From time to time, often enough, there was a hawk silhouetted against the coming sunset. On occasions there would be a pair. We always called with the news: “… hawk sighting, hawk sighting!”
She battled her malady for most of the dozen or more years that I knew her. She did not allow it to intrude too deeply into her bucket list. She gardened, she traveled … made a trip late on to see the Blarney Stone and other Irish wonders. And, she laughed. Oh, what a laugh! We all took lessons from her on how to laugh. She was the bravest person I ever knew. She is my hero.