But I have to admit that I was reconsidering the concept this season. Stekoa and I ventured back into the field a bit later than usual, owing to scheduling conflicts and the vagaries of this October's weather. And it was starting to feel as though my avian partner had forgotten all about rabbits: until yesterday, he was averaging five "miscellaneous" kills (mice, voles, snakes) per outing, and could easily have doubled that if I had had the patience. Flights at bunnies were few and far between, not to mention seemingly half-hearted. Why follow me and the dogs, why put in hard flights at rapidly fleeing cottontails, when so many delectable treats are to be had by simply dropping out of a cedar tree?
Yesterday, though, everything came together. The dogs and I flushed a couple of rabbits almost immediately, and Stekoa pulled fur on one before it escaped into standing corn. (The strange weather has also played havoc with the harvest.) Suddenly he was all business, following closely and, better yet, taking good high perches out in front of us. The dogs had a good day, too, Anya yipping up several scent trails—most of which also led into standing corn—and Maxine running full-tilt in several directions at once despite the uncomfortable warmth of the afternoon. After several good but unsuccessful flights in heavy cover, I got our party turned around back in the direction from which we had come: it was hot, I was tired even if Maxie wasn't, and I wanted to end the hunt on a high note rather than letting it descend into another moustravaganza. But, as so often happens, we found another rabbit and Stekoa caught it within sight of the car. Triumph, sure, but also relief.
Last night I mentioned to my daughter that (by our standards, at least) I hadn't seen her much lately: between work, hawking, and other responsibilities—including a couple of hawk-trapping assignments for Raptor Recovery—I haven't been able to take her to school in the mornings or pick her up in the afternoons. "That's okay, Dad," she said. "I'm glad you've been helping the hawks and getting out hunting. It's good for you."
Ellie and my wife, obviously, are both very supportive. They also know me very well. Susan says I'm at my most difficult just before hawking season, my short temper being symptomatic of inactivity, confinement, and repressed hunting urges. And Ellie's comment made me realize that I had not just been anxious to re-enter Stekoa on game. I needed to re-enter my life, to fully engage in the pursuits that bring me alive again after the long stultifying months of summer.