One Golden Eagle
Father is teaching me to hunt with golden eagles. He taught my big sister, Sezim, before me, though Grandfather scowls whenever he thinks of it. He says girls shouldn’t hunt with eagles. He says they should stay home and help take care of the children. But Father disagrees. He says with my brothers away at university, he hopes Sezim and I will keep the old traditions alive. He said if I want to, I can go to university too, but he hopes I’ll stay and hunt with him and Sezim.
I don’t know if I will go to university. Sometimes when I feel bored and tired of the chores, I want to go live in the city like my brothers and see the world. But when I go hunting with Father and Sezim, I feel free. We ride our little ponies out onto the endless steppe, sometimes for days. The air is cold, the steppe is rugged and bare, and stretched out above us is the Eternal Blue Sky. We ride up onto a gray-blue mountain and watch the valley below, sometimes for hours, until we see a fox, ground squirrel, marmot, or rabbit — the eagles all the time perched on our arms and tethered with leather bands. We wear thick leather gloves because their talons are sharp as knives; we also hood them so they are calm. When we see a fox or hare, we loosen the tethers and take off the eagles’ hoods. The eagles catch sight of the prey, spread their wings and lift off, the bright sunlight shining on their wings as they soar down the mountainside at great speed.
Sometimes, when I see the eagles fly, I close my eyes and feel the wind on my face and the sun on my arms and I, too, am soaring down the mountain in the Eternal Blue Sky. Grandfather sometimes hunted wolves with eagles too, if they attacked the herd, but I’ve never seen that.
When the eagles catch the animal, we let them eat some of it as a gift for a job well done and save the rest of the meat and the pelt. Father, Grandfather, and Uncle used to go out and hunt all winter and then come back with many pelts. My father’s hat is lined with a fox he caught when he was Sezim’s age (Sezim’s is of red velvet lined with squirrel fur). They’d also sometimes ride out to the Golden Eagle Festival in Ólke, which is the capital of the Bayan-Ölgii province of Mongolia, but I’ve never been there yet. Father says, maybe when I am older, he can take Sezim and I hunting at the festival.
Someday, we must let the eagles go. Father says they deserve to be free too. We train them for five years, hunt with them for five, and then let them go. Father’s eagle was a hatchling when he first began to train it, but they’re usually a couple years older. Grandfather let his last eagle go last year. He says he is too old to hunt anymore, so he had to let her go, though he said it was like losing a child. He didn’t cry, but I did. She was a great eagle and gentler than most birds.
I am still training my eagle. Grandfather says she will be a good hunter, and I hope to hunt with her starting next year. I will go out with Father and Sezim and, instead of just going along to watch and help, I will hunt too. I can’t wait!