Still, always, I am enraptured. The sense memory of a peregrine falcon remains in my hands though it has been years now since I held one. But this gyrfalcon is new to my skin, new to my eyes. I think she’s a she, larger than a female peregrine, and she is dead and frozen on the table in the trailer of Lab 1 at Toolik Field Station on the North Slope of Alaska. Dalton Highway, better known as Haul Road for the semis that carry supplies back and forth between inland Fairbanks and Deadhorse on the Arctic Ocean, parallels the spine of the pipeline through this part of Alaska. On that road, the gyrfalcon most likely made contact with some vehicle passing through. Toolik people found her on the side of the road, intact, limp, just a dollop of blood at the edge of her beak. I found her in the -80 freezer, clouds of coolness pooling at my feet when Seth, the Toolik naturalist, opened the double door and found the plastic bag with her remains. He sets her out on the table. Switches on the light. He lets me hold her, the weight hefty for the hollow-boned fighter. Ice crystals glaze her beak, sweep over her eyes, cinched shut. Her tail is long, barred with bands of smoky grey and and smudged tan, the striations of feathers running on the diagonal. Her head tucks in toward one rounded shoulder, a demure pose, cozy and shy and frozen in place like the permafrost that lies below this northern land. On a piece of paper in the bag are the details: “Found on Haul Road btwn Slope Mtn & OKs culverts 7.17.2015″
Life forms larger than a mosquito are few and far between here on the halo of the earth. Ground squirrels scrambling along the tundra underfoot and the arora borealis, a different type of life force, invisible but existent overhead, masked by the eternal daylight this time of year. There is a buzz with each wolf or grizzly sighting, a coveted moment of witnessing great bigness. The ground is alive with microorganisms, and bees hover around the purple glow of fireweed blooms that are hopeful that a seed might form before the killing freeze arrives. But today there is one less gyrfalcon flying through these wide open skies. Seth slips her back into the bag and returns her to the raptor morgue.
@toolik @Mblscience #eulogy #gyrfalcon #raptor #Alaska #truestoryshort