I saw it first from too far away to know precisely what it was - a whitish boomerang of a bird some one thousand feet up the hillside that was once under water during the highest point of the archaic pluvial Lake Bonneville. I stand below on the shoreline that the lake created after it broke through its moorings in Idaho and drained itself with the equivalent force of all the world's rivers for a year. The top of the hillside is burst with tufa outcroppings, a feature everywhere in the basin that I have come to love. I often see birds flitting in and out of the porous rock.
And then, with a casual grace, this white bird unzipped the air and flushed little birds up in wild murmurations, as if a mouth were mutely screaming. Falcon. Slender, pointed wings. Effortless transcriptions of power. It flowed out over the panicked songbirds gaining a hundred feet under its own sheer will in a second or two, flapped its wings deeply a few times and disappeared over the hill. I waited. It did not return.
I called to my dogs and we turned back home. Content to have seen for a moment the great killer of birds. I looked back over the hillside looking for a sign of its return, and still it did not appear. Magpies flitted nervously out in front of me, the air still. Below us the refineries whined. Air Force 1 had just departed carrying the lunatic back to the east. One last glance over my shoulder.
A bird, canting along the top of the crest of the tufa face, too small at first, I thought, to be the selfsame falcon, continuing now through the crags and bending down, now, now, still no wings outstretched, down the runnels of the hill filled with damp light, the bird becomes still, somehow, and my mind makes it for a moment a floating cottonwood seed suspended somehow in the air eight months too late, somehow, but I suddenly realize that it is still this bird who has modified its flight directly toward me so the sense of forward movement is stopped only it's getting bigger until THERE it passes no more than fifteen feet in front of me not much more than that off the ground plunging - I can hear the air drawing together in its lee - jackhammer beautiful, perfect silhouette of falcon without twitching so much as a muscle plunges ever more down to the valley floor, sicles out, and there at the bottom flair a squadron of starlings wildly torquing and I bring up my binoculars to no avail, it is happening too fast and it is too far away, but with my naked eye I can see the falcon swooping through the birds wantonly on bright narrow wings, playing?, flashing in the sun. I realize now what I have just seen. My heart stops and I do not touch the ground. The falcon has stooped along the hillside covering 800 meters in something like eight or nine seconds.
Somewhere behind me the lunatic has no idea what he just missed.