The Lure: What a Vermont Hawk Taught Me About Romance

On a weekend getaway in the mountains, MORE.com’s dating expert learns that some things are sweeter than far-flung freedom.

By Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW

"Um, Dan’s not my husband," I mutter for the fourth time in a three-hour period. If I were back in New York this comment would be issued without the polite fake smile I tack on for staff and guests at the Equinox Resort in Manchester, Vermont. As a seasoned journalist I’m equipped to handle situations that would flummox or frighten most sane people — such as accompanying a humanitarian relief team to a war zone, sloshing through sewers in Romania to interview street children, and trying to rescue marginalized women in Ghana who are branded as "witches" and banished from their villages. But here in bucolic New England, voluntarily exiled on a weekend press trip designed to familiarize travel writers with this Green Mountains refuge, I feel awkward and alien.Typically I travel alone but since this was a quick, easy idyll and journalists were encouraged to bring guests, I invited Dan. I knew I liked the man I’d been seeing for the past five months; I just wasn’t sure how much. Long divorced, I’d grown comfortable with my independence. And Bob, the last man I’d dated, an uber-commitmentphobe, cracked my heart into so many pieces it’s possible a few landed in this northern outpost. Is a shard lodged inside The Equinox, a stately historic resort whose guests have included Mary Todd Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt? Or perhaps a lucky sliver found sanctuary inside a handbag in the Coach Store, one of the 30 enticing Manchester Designer Outlets clustered around Route 7A. Dan craved the stability enjoyed by the other writers on the press trip — all married; most with kids. One even brought the family dog — a husky, big barked, live-to-play creature answering to "SuperBoo." I grew super-tired of correcting everybody’s assumptive comments: "Do you know where your husband got that cool jacket?" "Would your husband like grated cheese on his pasta?" "Your husband can leave the car in one of the reserved parking spots." Vermont is a liberal state. They’ve legalized gay marriage; can’t two people share a room without it being assumed they’re linked through matrimony?Still, Dan was the perfect companion. He played well with others, carried my bags (helpful when you’re 5’1" and lack truly useful muscles), and made me feel like I fit in when the conversation veered into "we" territory. Plus, he gave four-star massages. Dan and I didn’t live together; we rarely even spent the night together, much as tossing him out at 3 a.m. made me feel like an evil seed. He never complained — more grist for my worries that he was too nice and easygoing to sustain my interest over the long haul. The older I got, the more the crevices of my ruts and routines felt comfortable. I’d earned my quirky little addictions — like downing so much hot air popcorn in bed while watching junk TV that I should buy stock in Orville Redenbacher’s. More integrally, I’d worked so hard to overcome the need for the high that accompanies pursuit by an attractive man that being wanted in the seemingly unconditional way Dan projected sometimes gave me a "wings being clipped" feeling.That’s why I intuitively empathize with Elmer, one of the 14 luminescent-eyed Harris Hawks housed at The British School of Falconry located in a turn-of-the-century white barn in the Hildene Meadowlands. Falconry, the art of hunting with birds of prey, was the sport of British monarchs from Ethelbert II to George III. Apparently this noble activity has degenerated to the point where even a scruffy-looking band of American commoners can try it.I volunteer to go first. Elmer, a one pound, six-ounce regal stunner, gazes soulfully into my eyes as his left ankle is tethered to a leather falconry glove covering my left wrist. Dan excitedly snapping pictures, I am instructed to raise my arm, the signal for Elmer, now untethered, to fly to a perch in a nearby tree. Rather than whizzing off, perhaps back to England (surely Prince Charles falcons!), he eyes me expectantly. I give the signal and barely stifle a scream as this proud warrior replete with a six-foot wingspan, hooked beak, and talons that clearly haven’t been declawed, swoops back gentle as a raindrop, landing on my glove. Why didn’t he choose freedom? We’re told Elmer’s stomach rules.

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