Dr. Alexander "Bill" Klots had discovered a goshawk nest on Killington Peak the hard way: With net in hand, he had gone into the forest near the summit of that very wild mountain.
There he expected to capture a few specimens of Erora laeta, one of the rarest butterflies in North America. Unwittingly, he had entered the nesting territory of these fierce goshawks and got knocked off his feet by one of those powerful birds of prey.
My friend knew I wanted to train a peregrine falcon, but he felt a goshawk would be better for a novice and more suitable to Oyster Bay, L.I., where I lived immediately after World War II. So he gave me directions to West Bridgewater, Vt. Next, he gave me 300 feet of climbing rope and some hurried lessons on fashioning a makeshift ladder for the 80-foot climb to the goshawk nest -- a series of loops up the tree. He also loaned me his helmet liner, for obvious reasons.
It was a long and lonely drive to West Bridgewater. Bill Klots had planned to come with me, but at the last moment he found there was too much work to be done at the American Museum.
So, by daybreak, I stood alone at the base of Killington, which was shrouded in morning mist.
After two hours, the fog lifted and I came to the three white birch trees, behind one of which I should find the initials ABK. I found them, and my heart began to pound, for I knew I had come to the right place to capture a young goshawk -- if the three nestlings were still in that great mass of sticks.
Actually, finding the nest was relatively easy. As I moved through the giant hemlocks, the silence suddenly was broken by the first screaming adult goshawk, which sped past my shoulder, angry at the intrusion.
I donned Bill's helmet liner none too soon. High in the crown of a lofty sugar maple was an enormous nest with three little nestlings clearly visible above the edge.
I could barely get that rope around the 6-foot level of the maple's trunk, but as soon as I managed to tie the first loop, I raised myself and tied a second loop. Thus, awkwardly continuing to provide myself with rope footholds, I was about 50 feet up when the whole contraption suddenly gave way. Instantly, I was hanging upside down, with one sneaker caught in an elongated loop, the helmet liner across my eyes, and talons ripping my shirt to shreds.
It took me some time to regain my composure. The only way I could extract my foot was to leave the sneaker in the faulty loop. The helmet liner had fallen to the ground.
Looking up to the first single branch, I decided to abandon the rope and shinny those final 20 feet. With arms and legs raw and bleeding, I made it up there none too soon, for the sky darkened and winds lashed the forest. With lightning and explosions of thunder, the tree swayed as I hung on in the soaking, cold rain.
I was trembling and praying. Fortunately, those adult goshawks had given up their attacks and disappeared.
Suddenly, the winds died down and a warm, friendly sun burst upon the summit of Killington. It took me 30 minutes to recover. The huge nest remained 10 feet above my head.
It made me dizzy to look down, but it gave me a certain reassurance to know that camera, binoculars, and pack were still down there where I'd left them.
Now, to my astonishment, I discovered that a deer had come nervously to sniff my gear. That beautiful animal, a doe, was directly below my lofty perch. So, I broke off a piece of bark and let it tumble to the forest floor -- actually tapping the curious deer on her nose. Startled, she took an enormous leap backward, and bounded away through the silent forest.
The rest of my mission was soon accomplished. Actually sitting in that nest with them, I proceeded to band the three baby goshawks, selected one with the strongest feathers and the biggest feet, and lowered her gently in a sack with a ball of twine.
Sliding precariously to that tangle of rope, I somehow accomplished my painful mission -- with the young "baroness" as the reward for my efforts.