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#TBT: The Gleam In a Hawk’s Eye

A week of loss, and the approach of another midwinter storm. The weather began to shift yesterday, clouds roiling the western sky and fanning out overhead. Last night’s forecast saw early flurries in the area, albeit none here; the real weather is due to arrive tonight, if the predictions can be believed.

By then, the spirit of our small furry family member will be home.

The void here is incalculable; it’s difficult to believe that four legs and floppy ears and a wagging tail could have held such an outsized personality, such a huge and happy spirit. She was love itself, although the circumstances surrounding her early weeks of life made her predatory, too; without such instincts, well and fully developed, she would never have survived long enough to find us and steady food and safety, even if only for a time. Her eyes, in her early months, glowed like amber, but recently they had begun to darken, a smoky molten shade like topaz or quartz or tiger’s eye jewels, shining with an internal light like the gleam in a hawk’s eye.

The hawks have been visiting again.

They are, in our way, escorts — among their many other roles, they are guardians and guides between worlds. The red-tail has been here, and the Cooper’s hawk, too: both female, both as much a part of this place as the little canine spirit now in their charge. She hunted as fiercely as they, and as efficiently, too; it’s why we ultimately had to lock her up when the chickens were ranging beyond their barn-sized enclosures. Dog and raptors were, in their way, kindred spirits.

Collectively, they reminded me of a work Wings created a year or so ago, one in a series of special commissions by a dear friend. It was what is known as a hair cuff: a half-round “cuff” made of silver with a slender bar inside its reverse arc, designed to hold long hair in place without a braid or a ponytail. Our friend already had a few made by various artists, but she wanted a larger selection, encompassing different stampwork and stones. She had asked about some of the smaller cabochons in Wings’s inventory of stones, and among the photos I set to her was one of the gem in the piece above: hawk’s eye.

Hawk’s eye is a variant of tiger’s eye, but instead of the usual browns and yellows and occasional reds, it manifests in shades of blue, ranging from grayish hues to the color of midnight, often banded with chatoyant gold or silver. It’s the same stone that formed the head and face of the Butterfly Maiden in yesterday’s featured work, and it’s a jewel of powerful, visionary beauty.

This particular cabochon seemed small by itself, but it presented a challenge when it came time to design the piece. The cuff itself is necessarily relatively small, intended to hold the hair close inside its arc. This particular stone turned out to be too large to set onto the surface of the cuff . . . but all was not lost, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, though, came the design of the cuff itself.

Knowing that the piece would ultimately be set with the hawk’s eye cabochon, Wings designed the stampwork accordingly, maintaining the twinned motifs of “eye” and “vision.” He began with a flowering pattern that would ultimately extend outward from the center stone: On the vertical, at the top and again at the bottom, a single hand-stamped Eye of Spirit; fanning out from the sides of each in a feathery design, longer, more slender “eyes”, three to a side (for a total of seven at the top and seven at the bottom of the hair cuff). He then edged the entire cuff on all four sides with a lodge symbol that infuses the imagery of the illumination of day and night, rays of sun and arc of moon.

He then created the bezel for the stone, with a hand-cut oval backing that extended slightly beyond the bezel enclosure itself. He fashioned a scalloped bezel just inside its perimeter and soldered it firmly into place. He then edged it with a slender stand of twisted silver, likewise soldered all the way around the edge, and set the bezel aside for the moment.

Next, Wings placed the cuff atop a slim mandrel and gently hammered it into the proper arc. Shaping comes before the installation of the prong on the reverse side, the better to center it properly. Then, he turned his attention to the prong itself.

The prong is a long, slim length of sterling silver, flexible enough to shape slightly, but substantial enough not to lose its shape or break with prolonged use. For this, he chose a length of half-round wire of a relatively fine gauge. He kept what would be the top end flat, with a clean cut; he filed the opposite end to a point. He then stamped a repeating pattern of butterflies, tiny wingéd messenger spirits of another sort, down the length of the prong. Once the stampwork was complete, he bent it at a right angle at the upper end, perhaps a quarter of an inch from the end, so that the short portion lay flat, with the remainder elevated and extending outward. He then hammered the short portion flat and soldered it securely to the upper inside of the cuff. This provided a bit of tension for holding the hair in place, without catching it between the prong and the cuff and snarling or breaking the strands.

Then, Wings turned the cuff face up again. In the very center of the top side, equidistant between the two fanned Eye of Spirit motifs, he soldered a tiny sterling silver tube into place to serve as a post. It wasn’t especially high, sitting only millimeters above the surface of the cuff itself. But this would serve to hold the bezel for the stone: With as sharp a curvature as is required for such cuffs, nothing but the smallest stones can be used unless they are set above the work; with a stone of this size, the solder would not hold across such a sharp arc (and most likely would not even adhere the two together in the first place).

Once post and bezel were secure, he oxidized all the joins and all the stampwork, then buffed the entire piece. He chose a high polish for the top side, near a mirror finish; he left the inside a soft, gentle Florentine finish. Then he set the stone, a truly impressive specimen manifest in a translucent midnight blue so deep as to appear nearly black, banded on a diagonal with chatoyant lines of shimmering gold. It looked like a night sky giving way to the light of the sun . . . and like the gleam in a hawk’s eye at that moment of recognition, of illumination — of, in our pup’s once-darkening eyes, the sheer unadulterated joy in and love of life itself.

She will be home now, with the brindle brother she never knew in life but whose spirit she channeled regularly, and with all the others, too. In her absence, we shall need to look elsewhere for such illumination.

At least the hawks are back.

~ Aji








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