By Caden Hill
The falcon peered downwards at his prey.
He soared hundreds of feet in the air above a roiling Alaskan sea. The water steamed and bubbled, smashing against the dark rocks of the coast to produce titanic upthrusts of freezing liquid.
But despite the turmoil below him, the old Peregrine was unfazed. He had braved winters cold enough that the blood began to still within him, and winds so strong that they reduced towering pines to little more than broken twigs.
He flew through it all.
For if he would not fly, he would not live.
And today the old Peregrine flew once more upon the will of the wind.
He was hunting Alaskan Sea-Ducks. They bobbed far below him on gargantuan swells, appearing as fruit ripe for the picking to the master hunter.
He swiveled his head, observing everything in his domain. On the shore, dark rock gave way to sylvan green forests, mighty pines and cedars standing to attention. And beyond the forest, great white mountains so tall they must reach to heaven. On the water, scattered fleets of dark seabirds rested, at ease among the churning waters.
The old Peregrine needed the seabirds to sustain himself, but he himself could not fly close to the water. For if he were to brush the waves with his wings, the water would soak his feathers and he would drown, sinking helpless into the depths.
But the falcon had an ally.
A moment of silence dropped, and then the bird felt a great surge beneath his wings. The wild Alaskan wind had changed, as the old Peregrine knew it would. It now blew in a steady, powerful stream from the sea to the land, tugging on the swells and coercing them from gentle giants into roaring whitecaps.
The ducks took flight in spurts, racing along the sloping water until they built up enough momentum to escape the pull of the ocean.
The falcon dove like a fighter jet, pulling his wings into tight deltas. As he fell at over 150 miles an hour, he felt the wind, seeking guidance.
Go left, go left, the air seemed to tell his feathers. And so he did, jockeying with his primary feathers to angle himself left.
Just in time. A stray gust swooshed through his prior position, just the eddies knocking him off balance.
The falcon corrected with a flip of his wings.
Move that way, the wind urged him. And so he did.
Angle up, angle up! It whispered.
Twist like this! The gusts cajoled.
Ready your talons! The wind screamed.
Foot by foot, yard by yard, by thousand-meter stretch, the old Peregrine stooped towards the unwitting waterfowl, carefully listening to the will of the wind.
He acquired his target—a fat old duck a few seconds behind the rest of the meandering flock—angling towards it like a sleek messenger of death.
A hundred feet above the roaring ocean, he thrust his wings out, angling his feathers to pull sharply up out of the dive.
Talons extended, the powerful bird of prey collided with the stricken sea duck.
It’s body went limp as its spine was crushed.
The other ducks scattered at an astounding speed, calling loudly.
To them it was a call to flee and escape the predator, but for the falcon, it was a victory march.
He gripped the lifeless bird tighter, hovering for a moment in still air. Then he stroked his wings hard, riding for home on an invisible current of air.
As he skimmed the forest treetops, a grand Golden Eagle looked down upon him from a large eyrie. A signal passed between them, an acknowledgment of titles.
You are my brother of the Ocean.
You are my brother of the Forest.
We live apart but together. May this always be so, for as long as there is an Ocean and a Forest.
As he climbed the flanks of the mountain, ascending into the thinner atmosphere, a pair of large yellow eyes caught his from a hollow in one of the last trees.
A Snowy Owl.
You are my opposite, O hunter of the Day.
You are my opposite, O hunter of the Night.
We live in an inversion, a sacred tandem. One cannot exist without the other. May this always be so, for as long as there is Day and Night.
And as he landed on a windblown scrape on a high mountain ledge, a Vulture glided gracefully by his cliff-built home.
You are Guardian of Life.
You are Guardian of Death.
As the sun and moon chase each other, so must we, for neither belongs when the other is risen. May this always be so, for as long as there exists Life and Death—is that duck I see?
Then the old Peregrine chased the Vulture off with an annoyed screech.
Having secured his territory, title, and dinner, the falcon returned to his scrape to rest.
The next morning, there was silence.
The ocean was calm and still, steaming in the pale light.
In the forest life seemed to have vanished, burrowing into oblivion.
Up high on the mountain not even the wind made a sound.
The wary falcon lifted his wings into the blue sky, flying west over the forest.
It was too quiet.
Then a tiny whisper of wind brushed his tail-feathers. There is another. The Wind told him.
Razor sharp talons sliced in front of him, their gleaming edges mere inches from his beak.
The new Peregrine had overshot his lethal plunge, but was swooping up and around for another pass.
The old falcon rolled right, and then dove for the forest floor. He would have the advantage in the tighter spaces dues to his shorter wingspan.
But he never made it.
The new Peregrine whipped the air with his wings and caught up, snatching at the other falcon’s tail-feathers!
Control shredded by merciless talons, the battered raptor wobbled, and then fell, crashing through evergreen needles bouncing off hard branches, and thumping into the forest floor.
He felt his left wing twist unnaturally beneath him and let out a startled caw of pain.
The new, young Peregrine swooped overhead, peering down his hooked beak. I’m not just going to kill you, I’m going to leave you, to give you a petty hope of survival. The strongest will survive. May it always be so.
Struggling to get up, the old Peregrine could do nothing but watch as the invader began to terrorize the other inhabitants of the forest.
He raged at the Snowy Owl, sending the night hunter flurrying into the deepest recesses of his hollow.
I am master of both Day and Night!
He murdered the Vulture, snapping it’s spine with a single decisive blow.
I control Life and Death!
The impostor even dared to harass the massive Golden Eagle, slashing at him with lightning fast talons swipes and dives.
I rule the Ocean and the Forest!
And as the hours passed, the Eagle flew away, the Snowy retreated, and every time the intruder passed the old Peregrine over, he repeated the same mantra as before.
The old, proud falcon huddled on the ground until nightfall came. When darkness finally closed over the earth, and the raucous cawing of the invader could no longer be heard, he raised his wings. The clever old bird had been faking an injury far worse than the reality.
He beat them once, flinching at the pain in his left. He beat them twice more, this time rising a little off the ground.
Things rustled in the bushes nearby, trundling closer with every second.
He beat them even harder, ignoring the stabbing rod of agony that thrust itself through his shoulder.
Shining eyes appeared in a patch of foliage off his right side. The raccoon sprang out at the injured bird like a jack-in-the-box teddy bear, clawing in a frenzy.
The old Peregrine lifted off into the cool night sky, driven by the new impetus to avoid being eaten. He was taxed to his limits to stay aloft, but he was not through yet.
Immediately after he cleared the treetops, a cool breeze announced the Wind’s presence. Where are you flying? Where are you flying?
He did not know. Two rival male Peregrines could not live in this area. If the intruder did not kill him prior, when the winter got cold and food got scarce, the young Peregrine would finish it.
The Wind whispered again. Go south…Fly away from here and find a new life.
He had no life but this.
In the south it is warm, and there is prey aplenty.
He had never hunted anything besides the Alaskan ducks.
In the south you can rest and heal.
He did not want to live if he could not live in his home. But…something told him he should listen to the Wind. An instinct written on his hollow bones led him to listen to the Wind, and the same instinct led him to answer:
You are my Master, my Freedom.
You are my Sea Flier, Day Hunter, Guardian of Life.
May it always be so. For as long as there is Ocean and Forest, and Day and Night, and Life and Death.
For as long as falcons have wings and the Wind fills their feathers, I will listen to the Will of the Wind.
Then the old Peregrine turned, and setting the ocean on his right and the forest to his left, he slowly winged his way south.