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Frightful, the peregrine falcon, could not see. A falconer's hood covered her head and eyes She remained quiet and calm, like all daytime birds in the dark. She could hear, however. She listened to the wind whistling through pine needles. This wind-music conjured up images of a strange woods and unknown flowers. The sound was foreign. It was not the soft song of wind humming through the hemlock needles of home.
Frightful was a long way from her familiar forest. Suddenly, an all invading passion filled her. She must go. She must find one mountain among thousands, one hemlock tree among millions, and the one boy who called himself Sam Gribley. The one mountain was her territory, the one tree was Sam's house, the perch beside it, her place. And Sam Gribley was life.
(In Which Frightful Takes Off)
Frightful had not been quite two weeks old when she first saw Sam Gribley. He had lifted her from her nest on a cliff. Small as she was, she had jabbed him with her already powerful talons as he carried her to the ground. "I'm going to call you Frightful," he had said. "You're a raving beauty." Then he carried her to the gigantic hemlock tree on the mountain and into its hollowed-out bole. This was Sam's home.
He fed her four and five times a day. He carried her on his gloved fist and talked to her. Before long, Frightful thought of him as her mother. He nurtured her like a peregrine falcon.. When she was older, Sam made a perch for her and placed it outside his tree. He taught her to fly to his hand. When she was full grown her took her hunting with him. By now, the memory of her parents was pushed far back in her mind. Sam was her family.
At night and on winter days, Sam brought her inside the huge old tree. She perched on his rustic bedstead and warmed herself by the clay fireplace. On spring and summer days, she would sit on her perch outside and watch the birds, the butterflies, and busy Sam. Patiently, she waited for him to take her hunting. It was her greatest pleasure. She loved the sky. She loved the updrafts and coiling winds and she loved "waiting on," hovering above Sam until he kicked up game. Then she stooped, the wind singing in her feathers.
Frightful was an excellent hunter who rarely missed. The food was shared. Their lives depended on each other. She must find Sam.
Frightful crouched to fly. She could not see. She folded her gray-blue wings to her body and straightened up.
Hooded and tethered, she had traveled with two strange men for several days.
One of them had taken her from her perch beside the big hemlock tree. He had a deep jerky voice and a face like a condor's. She looked intently at him before he slipped the falconer's hood over her head.
San had begged and pled with the man not to take her away, but he had pushed Sam aside and carried her down the mountain to a pick-up truck. A leather perch had been presented to her feet. She had stepped up on it as Sam had taught her to do. A door had closed and she was inside a camper on the truck. The motor rumbled and she was moving. A falcon Bell tinkled nearby. A sharp-skinned hawk had shifted his feet. A prairie flacon called out a single note. They, like herself, were sensing the direction of the moving pick-up - east, north east, east, then straight north.
Several feedings later the second man put Frightful on a perch in the pine forest. The prairie falcon and the sharp-skinned hawk were there too. She could hear their bells tinkling. Although, they were birds who would readily attack her she was not afraid of them.
Frightful was a peregrine falcon. She was faster and more agile that any other bird or beast the world around. Her long pointed wings, wide shoulders, and strong tapered body were sculptured by the wind, the open sky, and the nature of her ancestral prey-swift birds.
Frightful sat calmly under her hood, turning the sounds in the pine forest into mental images. A song sparrow caroled. A cardinal chirped. They told her she was in a forest clearing edged with bushes where song sparrows and cardinals lived.
A northern water thrush trilled. Frightful envisioned a dashing stream shaded by a majestic forest, the summer home of the northern water thrush. She heard the stream in the distance. It had many voices as it spilled down a stairway of rocks.
Suddenly, the cardinal screamed an alarm.. A predator was approaching. The song birds stopped chittering. The forest became silent. Even the insects ceased stridulating. Frightful pulled her feathers to her breast. The enemy was low and coming toward her.
The sharp-shinned hawk flew off his perch in terror. His bell tinkled. He was stopped by his leash that was knotted to a steel ring at the base of his perch and to the jesses on his legs. He jumped forward, fell back and beat the earth with his wings.
A killing snarl colored the air red.
An eastern woodland coyote had killed the sharp-shinned hawk. The killer, bird in her mouth, ran toward her pups in the woods. With a jerk, she, too, was stopped by the leash. She turned back and dug at the base of the perch until it toppled and fell. The next sound Frightful heard was the clink of the ring at the end of the leash bouncing over the ground. The sounds faded into the woods.
A wind twisted Frightful's silky pantaloons of pin-striped feathers that hung down over her enamel-shiny legs. Her tail flicked. She was nervous.
Human footsteps approached.
Their sounds did not conjure up the image of the men she had been traveling with. Wary, she lifted her wings to fly.
A hand touched the front of her legs and she stepped up on it as Sam had taught her to do.
"Hello, Frightful." Her name, but not Sam's voice. The tone was soft like the call of a mourning dove.
'What are you doing here?" the voice asked and she recognize Alice, Sam's sister. In Frightful's mind's eye, she saw a rosy face with sea blue eyes and yellow hair. Frightful relaxed. Alice was family.
She liked Alice, who ran and jumped. She also darted. Frightful liked movement. A spot in her eyes connected to many nerves gave her an instant focus on movement. Running, leaping Alice was a member of Frightful's home forest. Sam must not be far away. Frightful eased her grip on Alice's bare hand. She lifted her talons.
"Frightful," Alice said softly. "You've got to get out of here." The young girl's voice conjured up images of the one mountain among thousands of mountains, the one hemlock tree among millions of trees - and Sam.
"I'm cutting your jesses," she whispered. " You are surrounded by enemies! Fly, fly far away.
"Fly away, Frightful! Sam is not allowed to have you. He has to have a falconer's license and he's too young to get one. Fly, Frightful! Fly far!"
A quick slash of a knife and Frightful's jesses and leash dropped away. The hood was flipped off.
And Frightful could see.
"Fly!" Alice urged.
Frightful saw the clearing before her and the leaves on the bushes, even the shiny needles at the tops of the pine trees. Her eyes were endowed with incredible vision.
Alice tossed her into the air.
Pulling on her powerful wings, Frightful sped to the top of the tallest pine and alighted on a slender twig. He large black-brown eyes observed the forest, the cascading stream, a town tucked in a steep valley, and rolling mountains as far as she could see.
She turned her head almost all the way around, but could not see or sense the one mountain among thousands of mountains, the one tree among millions of trees. She must get higher. She flew. Strong wing beats carried her into a thermal, a column of warm air that rises from the sun heated ground in a spiraling bubble. She got aboard and circled upward a thousand feet.
The view was still unfamiliar. To the northeast the rolling mountains ended in a steep escarpment. A waterfall plunged down it, falling two hundred feet to the ground. Beyond the escarpment stretched a valley almost obscured by industrial haze. Rivers threaded through it. Directly northward the rugged Adirondack Mountains stood in a green haze above the land.
Frightful had not been fed for ten hours. She was desperately hungry. Her first act of freedom would be to hunt for herself.
But the forest was not the habitat she knew. Sam had trained her to hunt in abandoned fields. She circled and waited for him.
He did not appear. Frightful flew higher. A movement on the ground caught her eye. Alice was walking on a road that wound through the pine forest. Frightful pumped her wings once and plummeted earthward. When she was twenty feet above Alice's head she scooped her wings, dropped her secondary feathers and braked herself. She hovered, "waiting on" for the girl to kick through the fields and scare up the game as Sam would have done.
Alice did not look up. Her eyes were on the road. Presently, she came out of the forest into open farmland. Frightful's eyes sought movement. This was the country she and Sam had hunted. Tipping one wing, she moved effortlessly over an abandoned field. She waited o for Alice.
But Alice did not come into the field. She stayed on the macadam where nothing lived. She was in a hurry. Breaking into a run, she dashed around a bend, just as a yellow, white and brown dog with long ears and droopy eyes left his hide-out in a culvert. He saw Alice run past him. Crouching, he pulled his tail between his legs and dropped out of sight in the daisies. He had been beaten as a pup and was terrified of people. He was thin, but not skinny, for he lived quite well on the mice and rabbits in the field. The farmer who saw him from time to time called him Mole. Every time he lifted his gun to shoot the dog, Mole disappeared in the ground. The man had Mole pegged for the killer of his chickens.
Mole slipped silently through a thistle patch. A pheasant burst up. Frightful rocketed earthward. She struck the bird a mortal blow and dropped with it to the ground. Instinctively, she covered the food with her wings to hide it from other predators. She plucked but did not eat. She was waiting for Sam.
Mole smelled the dead pheasant and lifted his head above the thistles. Alice was gone and seeing no other humans, he followed the scent of the game. Suddenly, he burst upon, not just a pheasant, but also Frightful. Frightful lifted her feathers and threatened him. Then, holding the heavy bird in one foot, she beat her wings and skimmed over the thistles. Sh gained height and sped away and up.
Like a lightening bolt, a red-tailed hawk swept under her and, upside down, grabbed the pheasant in his talons. Frightful was pulled a short distance before she opened her feet and let go of the food. Four crows flew out of the woods and chased the red-tailed hawk.
Two crows saw Frightful. They turned away from the red-tailed hawk and, cawing frantically, dove at her.
Frightful flew into the leafy shelter of a maple tree growing along a fence row.
"Come harass the falcon," the raucous crows called to each other. The message traveled swiftly and crows came flocking to the tree. Two dozen gleefully pestered their enemy.
Frightful ducked the black bombers until she could stand them no longer. Taking flight, she sped around the barn and into t pine tree at the edge of a woodlot. She alighted close to the tree trunk, where her dark feathers and striking black head would bled with the bark. The crows did not see her and returned to their nests.
The excitement of the hunt and chase had tired Frightful. She rubbed her head on her broad shoulder, fluffed her breast feathers and rested. Her lower lids moved up over her eye and met the upper lids. The image of the one hemlock tree among millions filled her mind's eye and then faded. She was asleep.
Frightful awoke as the morning sun brought color to the tops of the trees. Still ravenously hungry, and growing weak from lack of food, she left the pine and circled above an alfalfa field.
A mouse came out of its den and chewed on a grass seed. Frightful threw up her wings and dropped. She never completed the stoop. The male red-tailed hawk shot out of the woodlot. Wings pumping, he was on a bullet straight path for Frightful. His mate sped to his left.
Frightful saw the hawks coming, maneuvered her wings, and shot herself up into space like a rocket. High above the red-tails, she looked down. Now she had the advantage. She was above them. To all birds anything overhead is a threat. The hawks beat a fast retreat to the woods. The female lit on a bulky stick nest where four nestlings huddled. Frightful had been in the territory of two devoted parents who were defending their young against a falcon.
Frightful put distance between them by climbing higher. A mere speck in the sky she took a reading on the polarized light of the sun. The rays vibrated in lines that told her the direction. She sensed the one mountain among thousands, the one tree among millions - and Sam. She must go there.
Mindful of the red-tail hawks, she flew north to get beyond their territory before heading for the mountain. In moments she was looking down on the escarpment and waterfall. They touched a memory of the right world for a peregrine, a memory as old as her species' time on earth. Drawn to the cliff and the waterfall she flew lower and lower.
On the top of the escarpment stood Alice. She was under a spruce tree, staring up at it.
Frightful soared toward her.
Two goshawks, the lions of the woodland birds, suddenly dropped out of the trees and dove at Alice. They skimmed over the blond head and climbed skyward. In the top of the spruce tree sat four young goshawks. Alice was discovering, even as Frightful had, the fury of parents protecting their young.
Alice shinnied up the tree truck, grabbed a limb, and climbed toward the nest tree. The female goshawks rose, dove, and rose again, her huge feet with their black talons poised to grab her flesh. Alice swung an arm and fended her off.
"Alice! Duck!" Sam's voice.
Frightful's world was suddenly right. Sam was here. The two would go hunting. She would catch their breakfast and he would hold her on his hand and feed her. He would talk and whisper to her.
She waited for his three note whistle that meant, "Come to me." There was no whistle.
"Come down, Alice," Sam Shouted.
"No," Alice shouted back.
The girl climbed on. She broke off the dead limbs, pushed back live ones, and wiggled upward. Near the nest the male goshawk struck Alice's backpack a pwerful blow, nearly knocking her out of the tree. Sam leaped to the lowest limb and climbed. The huge female goshawk dove at him. He held out his foot to fend her off. Her talons slashed his moccasin.
Frightful swept down from the sky and perched in an oak tree, waiting for Sam to go hunting.
Alice climbed into the bulky nest. She picked up a baby goshawk and tucked it into her backpack.
"Sam can't have a falcon," she said to the bird. "But you are a hawk. You'll love Sam"
Quickly she scrambled over the edge of the strong, revamped crow's nest and started down the tree. Sam saw her coming and climbed down too. He jumped to the ground. A moment later Alice dropped beside him. The raging goshawks attacked again.
Sam pulled Alice into the shelter of the woods. The goshawks followed screaming, until the two enemies disappeared under a clump of mountain laurel.
Then the goshawks saw Frightful. They attacked her head on. She twisted, confusing them, and climbed swiftly out of their reach.
When Sam and Alice came out of the woods, the winged lions bombed them again. Taking advantage of this, Frightful dropped over the edge of the escarpment. The goshawks did not see her.
She landed on a rock that stuck out from the cliff and shook the excitement out of her feathers. Behind her was a cave. She walked into its shelter, then out. It was comfortable and safe, but she was too weak from hunger to stay there. A day and a half had passed since she had eaten. Stepping to the edge of the rocky overhang she looked for food.
She saw a movement on the cliff. Sam was standing under a jutting overhang not far from her. With one powerful stroke of her wings she was above him.
"Cree, cree, cree, car-reet." She called. This was her mane for Sam Gribley.
"Did you hear that?" Sam exclaimed to Alice.
"Frightful," she shouted.
"No other bird but Frightful uses my peregrine name." He stepped to the edge of the ledge and looked up.
"Frightful!" he called.
She scooped her wings back them forward and hung above him.
"Cree, cree, cree, careet," she called.
"She's free, Alice," Sam cried. "she's not dead. I was sure she was dead."
No whistle told Frightful to alight on Sam's hand. She waited for this command, sculling her wings. An updraft carried her higher. She looked down. Still Sam did not call her to his hand. And because he had trained her so well, she could not alight without his whistle.
Confused, she let herself ting upward on a thermal, peeling off at a great height. Then she flew out over the valley. She must hunt for her life.
But she could not. Sam was her mother. She needed him. He needed her. She turned back.
This time she hovered before his face.
"Cree, cree, cree, careet," she called.
"Hello, yourself, Frightful. Hello, hello."
"Call her down, Sam," Alice screamed. "Whistle for her."
He did not.
Frightful flew higher - waiting.
Another draft of warm air swept up the escarpment, struck her open wings, and ringed her up again. She rode this thermal to the top, where the air was cool and could not lift her any higher.
Closing her wings to her body, she dropped headfirst almost a thousand feet, braked, and waited ten feet above Sam.
Again her did not call her.
A strong wind gusted. Frightful tipped one wing steeply, turned, and glided with the flow out over the valley. Above the Scohaire River turbulent air waves tossed her up, down, and sideways. She closed the slots between her flight feathers and maneuvered the bumps like a mogul skier.
"Cree, cree, cree." One of her own species was calling her. She turned her head and saw a male peregrine flacon. The tiercel caught up with her then passed beneath her, flying upside down. He was so close she could hear this contour feathers buzz in the wind.
"Chup, chup." He flew on his back again. He rolled in loops then once more on his back. He took her talons in his.
Although the time on peregrine courtship was over, and other males and females were feeding young, this male was seeking a mate. Frightful found herself responding to him.
Holding her wings steady, she followed him on a steep descent. Vortices of air spiraled out from her wing tips, sending golden hemlock pollen twisting in circles.
Then she saw Sam at the top of the spruce tree. He was returning the little goshawk to its nest. Frightful turned back.
Chup chases her. He made an awe-inspiring loop and cruised upside down beneath her. Gently he held her talons again, and a new feeling brightened Frightful's mood.
"Chup, chup, chup," the tiercel called as he flew ahead of her. This time Frightful caught up with him. They flew in tandem above the Schoharie valley.
(Copyright ©1999 by Jean Craighead George. Published by Dutton Children's Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved)