بیابان ایزایا را امتحان می کند

مجموعه: سهم من از کوهستان / کتاب: کوهستانِ شگفت انگیز / فصل 4

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متن انگلیسی فصل

IN WHICH The Wilderness Tests the Eyases

Frightful watched Chup wing over her pine stub at the edge of the cliff. She had no desire to follow him. Her attention was riveted on the fledglings. Duchess was in a red maple, Lady was out of sight in the fern bed, and Drum was perched in an oak tree behind her. Not one could reach the food she and Chup had dropped in the aerie—unless they flew.

No peregrine instincts told Frightful how to get the fledglings on wing. She sat and waited until it became too dark to see.

Lady awoke hungry. She was cold and wet. She shivered as she shook the water from her body and wings. Flapping hard, she struggled to fly out of the fern bed.

Duchess, on the other hand, did not seem to care if she ever flew again. She was comfortable. A dove flew past her. She focused on it with keen interest. A robin sang. She stared at it, then settled dreamily on her limb.

Drum had another agenda. Seeing his mother on the pine stub, he called pitifully, “Pseeeee pseee.” She did not look at him. Desperately hungry, he jumped toward her, spread his wings, and was sailing like a paper airplane toward the ground. He hit the grass and stopped, kakak-ing in fear. Frightful heard him but did not answer. An ancient peregrine instinct was finally guiding her—do not feed the fledglings.

Drum hunkered down where he was for most of the day. As evening approached, he lifted his feathers to keep warm. A damp, cold wind rolled along the ground and over him. Drum hopped into a huckleberry patch at the edge of the cliff and lay down on his stomach.

Frightful closed her eyes. The flatness of the stub under her feet reminded her of her home perch. She could see her mountain, the hemlock, and Sam. Her mothering was coming to an end.

At dawn the next day she looked about. She preened, then touched the gland near the top of her tail and lubricated her dry feathers with its oils. She glistened.

A heartfelt “pseee” from the cliff top reached her ears. Drum thrashed out of the brambles into view. He saw Frightful and cried again. She stared and sat still.

Drum’s “psee” became an Angry “kak, kak” that tripped him into action. He beat his wings and took off. He dropped—down, down, down. He alighted on the aerie, scattering the seeds of the blazing-star flowers with the blast of air from his wings. With a hop and two flaps, he was upon the rabbit.

Duchess saw Drum eating. She spread her wings, soared out of the red maple, and landed with a thud close to him. He lifted his feathers to scare her, but she was bigger, and bigness is boss in the peregrine’s world. Duchess grabbed his food. Then she saw the duck. She preferred bird to mammal and jumped on the duck. Running, covering, walking, she took it behind the blazing-star garden and ate ravenously.

Lady, who was at the foot of the cliff, was cold and losing weight rapidly.

“Psee,” Lady called over and over. Neither father nor mother came to her rescue. She fluffed her feathers to warm her body and sat still to conserve energy.

When Drum had eaten his fill, he walked toward Duchess. She lifted her wings and chased him to the edge of the aerie. She screamed, “Kak, kak, kak,” and he took off. He soared over the trees, tilted one wing, and found himself headed for the cliff. He pulled up on his tail, down on his wings, and was climbing. He came over the top of the cliff and steered to his oak tree. Drum was flying.

Duchess, alone and full of food, sat in the clumps of blazing-star flowers and stared down on the blue-green landscape. Her sharp eyes widened. Far away she saw a gray fox. He was walking along a tree that had fallen across a meandering stream. The slender animal stopped at a limb, then walked down it and jumped to the ground. He disappeared in the fern garden.

Duchess looked away from the fox. He was too big to be food. She walked to the edge of the aerie. Suddenly she spread her wings, was lifted by an updraft of wind, and spiraled skyward on a warm thermal. As she balanced herself with wings, feet, and tail, she felt the new and wonderful sensation of flight.

The thermal collapsed, and Duchess fell landward, alighting on the limb of an enormous sycamore tree near the river. Birds were all around her—on the water, in the reeds, in the trees and sky. She stared at the different kinds. Each species moved differently. Ducks ran on the surface of the water to get airborne. Pigeons banked and turned en masse in the sky. Swallows dipped and darted. Rails kept low in the marshy river edges. Cranes flew laboriously, then swiftly.

She chased the birds but could not catch any of them. After many hours, she flew home to the aerie and food.

Following Lady’s scent, the gray fox located her exact position with his nose and leaped. She was gone. He looked up. The young falcon was climbing the cliff, beating her wings, taking hold of rock cracks with the hook of her beak and her talons. She scrambled and flopped. The fox climbed after her.

Frightful suddenly appeared above him. She dropped headfirst, pumping her wings close to her body, and hit the fox with her talons. She was going twenty miles an hour. He yelped and leaped. Too heavy for Frightful to hold; she let go.

The fox fell, lit on his feet, and ran into the woods. Frightful returned to her stub.

Lady struggled on up the cliff. With a last effort, she pulled herself over the aerie ledge and flopped down on her breast, wings out. She rested with her beak on the ground. She was exhausted.

“Psee,” she cried weakly, unable to reach the remains of the rabbit. Frightful saw her struggle, but she did not help. Lady was out of the nest. She must make it on her own.

Hours passed. The young falcon grew more feeble. She was near death.

Chup sped into view. He dipped above Lady and dropped a pigeon. At the sight of the food falling her way, Lady felt a powerful desire to live. She flipped to her back and snagged the pigeon before it hit the ground. She rolled to her belly and tore off small bites. Energy rushed through her body, and she lived.

Three young peregrines had survived their first flights.

By the end of August the juvenile peregrines were catching almost all of their food. They wandered farther and farther from the aerie.

On a sunny day Lady flew far down the river valley. She lit on the tower of a church in a small town. Along the street were elegant Victorian homes. An elderly man emerged from one, walked to the churchyard, and scattered birdseed. Down from the trees, window ledges, and rooftops flocked many pigeons. They dropped to the man’s feet and ate.

Lady did not go back to the aerie. In the days that followed she grew strong and fat.

Drum stayed near the river. He was a stunning juvenile tiercel. He had his mother’s dark head and his father’s pale, blue-tipped body feathers. Like his father, he hunted the traditional food of his species—ducks and other waterfowl.

One evening, flocks of terns came to the river marshes. They were down from Alaska and Canada, migrating ahead of a cold front. In the few days they lingered in the Schoharie Valley, Drum grew fat on them. Then one dawn the birds took off for the south, and Drum went with them. His food was migrating; he must follow. In less than two days he and the terns and willets reached Delaware Bay.

When the September winds blew the downy milkweed seeds to new soil, Chup was gone, too.

A week later Duchess sensed another cold front bearing down from the northwest. She took a reading on the sun’s rays and, pointing her beak south, she, too, departed. With her went little cedar waxwings and juncos.

Lady sensed the high pressure of the same front and she, like Drum and Duchess, began the long pilgrimage of the peregrine falcon to warmer climates.

Frightful was alone, the only peregrine falcon in the Catskills who had not migrated. She was thin. She had not put on the extra layer of fat birds need before instinct tells them they are ready to go. She lingered at the aerie, hunting the nearby fields. At night she returned to her stub.

Without the fledglings to feed she grew heavier, but weight alone was not enough to start her migrating. There were three signals she must feel: the fitness of her body, the Tightness of the environment, and the chill of the atmosphere. She felt none of these.

Three weeks later, when orange, yellow, and purple leaves were showering down from the trees, Frightful was fat. Food was now scarce, and snow was in the air. She faced south. All the signals said go. But she did not.

Time passed; snow flurries came and went. Thousands of birds flew south. She watched them, lifted her wings to migrate with them, then folded them back in place. She could not go.

Early one morning a cold wind sent shivers through Frightful. She got aboard a thermal and ringed up. On it was a lone red-shouldered hawk. At the top of the bubble the hawk snapped its wings and shot south. Frightful hung there. She was looking down, not southward, searching for the one mountain, the one tree, and Sam. They were not to be seen. She got off the thermal and dropped back to her stub.

She dallied another two weeks. The window of the fall migration is open for only a few months. Once closed, the messages from body and environment shut off, and it is too late to go.

For Frightful that would be disaster. There would not be enough food for her to survive in the frigid northern winter.

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