- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Pasipo rows her wings as she climbs toward me. I pass 50 feet above her, and she changes direction, chasing me now. I cut a meandering line, swinging my weight from side to side in the glider, pretending a SAM is in pursuit. Over the rock face at the end of the promontory, Pasipo closes in and flips upside down, presenting the spotless white undersides of her wings as her talons grasp for the steak. I jerk the lure from her reach and stash the steak in the pocket of the cocoon.
The ship bounces into the thermal, which is rising off the dark face of the rock. Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon follows the falconer. Soon Pasipo overtakes me, circling past. The falconer follows the falcon for a full five minutes, the ship banked in a steep angle as I struggle to remain in the thermal's core, the area of its strongest lift.
Two thousand feet over our aerie, I am wondering where Pasipo will go when she tops out, while I, in the argot of sky sailors, "go over the falls," the cascading downdraft that encircles the thermal. Suddenly the glider is spit out of the gyre. My stomach at first feels as though it is crushing my lungs in a sickening, weightless sensation as the ship sideslips in a frighteningly long three-second free fall. My hand fondles the parachute's rip cord. Don't panic, I think. Turn out of it. I simultaneously swing my body to the low side of the glider and pull in the control bar to accelerate the lower wingtip out of the stall. The glider shudders and levels.
Pasipo is arcing down toward the aerie. I swoop after her, yelling, but she dives on. Five hundred feet off the deck we enter the gentle ridge lift, the upper boundary of the prevailing southerly that is deflected up off the peninsula. Pasipo turns into the wind and parks, perfectly still, in the steady flow.
I slow down and sail by, dangling the lure and calling her name. Again she pursues, catching me quickly and flipping over in an attempt to grab the lure. I yank the string away. She lets loose a long wail of hunger, shooting past me. I stuff the steak away but pull a small piece, a reward, from another pocket. She circles in, looking for the lure, and I throw the reward to her. As it flies over her head, she tucks her wings into her sides and dives at more than 100 mph, snagging the meat and swooping upward. She hovers in the ridge lift, devours the morsel and rows back toward me.
Banking the ship back and forth, I again fly in a serpentine path, with Pasipo matching every turn. She circles in front of the glider and sails past just a few feet in front of my face. I can see her deep brown eyes as she screams at me, demanding her supper. I bank away from her, but as I come out of the U-turn, she passes close by, her right wingtip nearly grazing my nose. Worried that she might hit the front wires of the glider in another pass, I toss more beef to her in a long are. Pasipo catches it just as it starts to descend. She parks in the ridge lift and swallows her reward as I run down the ridge line, heading for the thermal generator at the end of the peninsula.
Climbing in the gyre, I watch Pasipo, 300 feet below, race down the ridge and enter the elevator shaft. She spirals up at twice my speed, catching me at the top, where the lift dissipates, 2,000 feet over the aerie. She follows the glider toward the savanna while I contemplate making a run for a dormant volcano five miles out.
Pasipo screams, but the sound is different from her demands for food. I glance over at her, 60 feet off the port tip. Two augur buzzards are diving at full speed out of the clouds, their wings tucked to their sides, their talons thrust forward. As they near, I can see that their plumage is mature, their wings no longer auburn but slate gray, their short tails no longer chestnut but a vivid orange. In the distance another augur circles.
God help us, I think. It's the resident augurs. Pasipo's sister is waiting overhead while her parents, unable to recognize the child who was stolen from their nest eight weeks ago, are coming to drive her out of their territory. The air is full of screaming buzzards. They strafe Pasipo. The large mother smacks her on the head and swoops upward after the dive to reposition herself for another strike. As the smaller father closes in, Pasipo flips upside down to block his blow with her own talons.
"Pasipo!" I cry, swinging my weight hard to port and gliding in with the idea of a rescue. "Get under me!"