This summer we had a thrilling experience watching Kolya, one of the Russian boys, raising a sparrow hawk.
He found it in the road screeching its featherless head off. When he brought it home, talking excitedly about how he was going to feed it and raise it, I didn’t share his expectations. When I was a kid, I had tried on several occasions to raise a cast-off baby bird or some other hairless, bug-eyed creature. I still remember the cold, lifeless failures. They were terribly disappointing. I have killed about every kind of creature there is, simply trying to love it into maturity. I asked Kolya—mostly as a way of discouraging him—“What are you going to feed it? Where will you keep it so that the cats and dogs won’t eat it? How will you keep it warm at night?” He just grinned like a new father receiving his fifteenth kid, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I don’t know.” But his eyes and voice carried an appeal, saying, “You are Big Papa; you will know what to do.”
I looked down into his box at what looked to be all mouth and feet and saw a similarity to some boys I remember. “OK, let’s see, where do we start?” And so, we made room for a baby hawk. At first it gulped down anything we offered it, like a food processor turning everything it ate into “white paint.” We ended up throwing out several whitened boxes. As it got bigger, it would sit on Kolya’s shoulder and nibble and peck at his ear. The day came that it flew up into a tree...and stayed there! We worried all night and rushed out the next day to find that it had returned for its breakfast. It swooped down and landed on Kolya’s shoulder, and was rewarded with a piece of chicken liver—its favorite low-carb diet. For about two weeks it continued to return to sit in a tree and beg for more store-bought “prey,” and we would all run to serve its growing appetite.
Eventually, we noticed it beginning to catch critters to eat, and coming back to the tree less and less. With the passing days, the rescued predator matured, grew wary of us and came no more. We still see it from time to time, but now that he has found his rightful place in the heavens, he pretends that he never knew such profane creatures—never lived in a box, never begged for food, and never sat on a boy’s shoulder and fondled his ear. But we know better, and we will always remember.