I've told you all about collecting the goshawk last year. The endless, endless drive. The terrifying hotel. The appalling fried breakfast. The peat-coloured bathwater. The long wait on the quayside, fending off teenage heroin addicts and watching gulls pick bits of marine matter from the water. I forgot to tell you about the strange occurrence on our way back.
Nothing had changed in the car. Yes, I was poorer to the tune of several hundred pounds than the day before. The car had hundreds more miles on the clock. The weather was slightly different. It was morning. And in a box on the back seat was a goshawk.
There is a scene in that great Russian schlock-fantasy novel Nightwatch in which a group of otherworldly policemen, bored in a car, start changing the weather conditions. So rather than freezing on a winter night drive, they can conjure the experience of a night in more southerly climes, smell the breeze and the soft warmth of a different night, a different place.
Something like that happened in the car. Something thin and initially hardly there at all leaked from the box, from the goshawk. It was an intangible disposition of the air. It was the feeling of water. Water and some of those aromatic terpenes that you smell when you crush pine needles. A deep, watery sense. It wasn’t a smell. No: the car smelt of upholstery and hawk mutes and a whiff of red bull from the can on the floor. It was a feeling, not a smell. Aquaria and woodland ponds and liminology. Dripping conifers and stones and crushed wet woods.
I was driving south along the A1 on a hot August day, and my mind was full of water. I remember thinking, for no good reason, of Chinese zodiacal animals. Water pig. Metal dog. Fire horse. Elemental natural history.
Then I realised why. The atmosphere in the car had gone to water. And it was most definitely coming from the soft-plumaged, wobbly goshawk in the box on the back seat. Which (in one of those leaps of intuition found in dreams, made me remember how sparhawks and goshawks were described as being moist, of having moist humours, in sixteenth and seventeenth century falconry books. How you should avoid overdrying foods; how you should order their diet to suit their moist nature).
And then I thought, decidedly, yes. Goshawks are water. Falcons are air and hot stone. Goshawks are water and wood.
The feeling got more and more pervasive. Finally, intrigued, I swallowed the worry that I was going mad, and turned to Xtin, loafing in the passenger seat.
“Hmm" I said. "You know, this goshawk is making the car atmosphere strange”
“Oh yes” she said. “I know”.
“It’s like water and…”
“Pine needles and water” she said. With a voice that was as sure of the fact as if she'd pointed out a passing car.
We sat for a while, staring fixedly at the road.
“Strange, isn’t it?”