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  • Sharron Montgomery Pena

An Unforgettable Fire

Today we laid to rest our grand matriarch Harris hawk "Fire." She was the cornerstone of Ray's program for many of his years on the road and one of his most accomplished hunting hawks. You might have heard a story or two about her, because she lived up to and beyond the intensity of her name. She was over 18 years old.

There was the story about how Fire attempted to attack one of his falcons during a show. She was intercepted by him, physically tossed aside to save the falcon's life. When the show came to a close, and he was calling her back to his hand, she bypassed the glove and food reward to attack him, a retaliation that left him with blood running down his face as a dramatic climax to the unforgettable performance.

Then there's the story about how Ray saved her foot and ultimately her life. During travel, her foot became wedged in her door after she plunged the foot out trying to grab a nearby falcon. It was so damaged that it was recommended by an inexperienced veterinarian that the foot be amputated. Ray, however, cared daily for the foot, healing the injuries and fashioning a prosthetic device that allowed the talons to function while the foot was healing.

Fire crisscrossed the country doing shows from California to Florida. She was in her 9th year when I met her still in recuperation from the traveling injury.

She became the bird I worked most frequently when I began doing shows with Ray. She was unable to fly with the sisters, Gaila and Hera because they sought to "dethrone" her as the queen and brutally attacked her when Ray attempted to fly them together. So mainly Fire flew as part of my team, along with Jackson and Spike. She was such a reliable performer, I would pick her hands down every time as my go to bird. But she wasn't a lover. She didn't want you touching her. And she certainly wasn't tame in the least bit. She was captive bred, but her spirit was wild and she never for a minute thought that you and her were the same. I was honored that she accepted me, and made the decision to be on my team, educating children and adults alike for many years.

One of my favorite stories comes from a powwow in New York several years ago. There was a drum group that came by to visit and see the birds at the end of the day. They all liked the birds, but one young man in particular knelt down and began to sing to Fire. I was just about to tell him that she wouldn't tolerate him being that close to her, and then I stopped myself. I watched as Fire cocked her head and seemed to listen to him. She didn't seem to be stressed or uncomfortable with the presence of this stranger. He sang the entire song just a couple of feet from Fire, then rose. I told the young man that I had never seen her so docile around unfamiliar people. It turned out his people were known for having a great deal of "bird medicine." I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Fire, always the individual decided who and when she chose to share her space.

There are many other stories, but it's her overwhelming spirit that will always remain with me. Fire died last summer during the Bristol Renaissance Faire. We were deeply saddened because it seemed that her spark had returned and we were actively exercising her and had plans to have her return to the program. She became unable to keep her food down and while we were scrambling to get a veterinary appointment, she rapidly declined. As one final act of defiance, the day before she died, a toad managed to cross her path and she grabbed it. I found the poor toad in her grip and managed to free it (with minor injuries, it hopped away). I was there when she took her final breath. I hoped that she would find comfort in my presence, but in the end we all cross that final threshold alone. It was overall pretty peaceful, and even though I would miss her greatly, I was grateful that there was no extended suffering. You are free now Fire, fly now and continue your journey to the heavens.

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