My mother was good with wild creatures. She took in injured birds -- including those delivered by the local game warden -- and cared for them them until they were healthy again or could be turned over to qualified vet care.
Which is why, for at least some chunk of time in my childhood, it was not surprising to find whole mice frozen solid and Saran-wrapped in the freezer. Or moles. Sometimes, opening the cold cave of the Frigidaire, a girl could come nose-to-nose with a furry dead rabbit donated by a passing hunter.
Most often, when a hunter appeared at our door, it was to borrow the dog (an excellent retriever) for a day of duck- or goose-hunting. But sometimes, it would be a gift instead: a wounded bird of prey or a brace of dead rodents for whatever raptor was already convalescing at our house.
Once, while Daddo slapped together an appropriate box, a wounded Snowy Owl strode angrily around the living room, clacking its beak in warning with a sound like a softball connecting with a hickory bat.
Another time, there was a winsome little Screech Owl who would lean into a petting for as long as anyone had patience to continue.
A sparrow-hawk was among the first of those rescue birds I remember clearly. A fledgleling Falco sparverius was found huddled beside the road, and someone thought to bring it to Mumsie.
It was not far from being able to fly, but the bird needed practice catching prey. Mumsie built a little set of jesses for it from a picture in a book about falconry, so that she could retrieve the bird after short flights.
That sparrow-hawk's training as a tiny killer culminated when Mumsie staked out a live mouse for it -- a tiny noose around a tiny hind leg fastened to a nail driven into the dirt at the base of the bird's perch.
After a brief, anticipatory pause, the bird stooped and mantled (as the falconers phrase it) over the rodent. In a very few moments, with only a few faint sounds, all that was left was the little loop at the end of the string and a happy bird ready to go into the wide world.
And of course my sister and me looking at one another across the bird's head with a complicated mixture of reactions. So many of these childhood adventures seem to end -- in my memory anyhow -- with my sister and me looking at one another: both astonished and jaded, at the same time witnessing and disbelieving, and knowing that we will be telling this story one day.
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