Tuesday, August 23, 2005

On Falconry

My introduction to Steve's writing was from the falconry side of it, a popular article in Smithsonian, sometime in the mid-80s. I was surprised to know anyone wrote so well about the sport, then surprised again to discover he writes well about a lot of things. I'm sure various pigeon fanciers, gourmands, world travellers, writers, naturalists and fine-gun collectors have been equally surprised to see their favorite correspondent publishing on the weirdness of training hawks.

Steve doesn't need any more hobbies, but I bet he has them.

Sparking this post was Reid's comment in a recent email exchange, "You really have blogged very little on falconry, some on dogs, and not at all (that I recall) on coursing or pigeons or firearms. These are all subjects obviously where you have a tremendous fund of knowledge that you take for granted....Those are subjects that are the bread and butter of your books, the things that attracted readers like me and Matt."

Steve sent back, "Well, I just got one up on guns! Actually there will be more on hawks and dogs. I have been sort of saving this stuff for fall."

In fact the hawking and coursing time of year is not quite on us yet. When the hawks are up to molt (between late spring and early fall) we give them their due (food and care, etc.) but also take advantage of the extra time for other projects. In Steve's case, I gather that's quite a lot.

Steve then offered Reid another possible reason for the lack of falconry: "Matt and I are very odd falconers---we do weird things. So do many who we like, like the 'boyos' in Albuquerque. We are extremely naturalist-oriented as some but not all falconers are. None of us are mainstream, though Matt is very modern in some ways, and I very primitive."

To carry Steve's point a bit further, practicing "odd" falconry has some bearing on how and what you can write about it. It may be interesting to us, but also complicated when you consider the public forum: To non-falconers, we are ALL falconers. Some of the sub-distinctions we find significant are pretty arcane on the "outside." Few of us are comfortable presenting ourselves as general examples.

And then there are our peers. As Steve notes in A Rage for Falcons, falconry is "a great stirrer-up of passions." You need only to attend a gathering of hawkers, or to browse the Internet a bit to find ample proof. It is difficult to say enough to be meaningful without saying enough to be controversial.

Before I quit, the monikers "modern" and "primitive" falconry may need a bit more explaining: Steve flies a domestic-bred, hybrid falcon, which is hardly primitive. And I hunt small birds with various small hawks, something falconers have been doing forever. But Steve likes to fly his falcons at game directly off the fist (an ancient, eastern form of the sport) and at hares and rabbits (a heresy to Westerners, but traditional practice elsewhere). I tend to hunt non-traditional (read: low-rent) quarry like rails, starlings and sparrows. I fly a Harris' hawk ("the un-goshawk!") off a PVC pipe carry-pole and ply my trade mostly in undeveloped suburban plots. Thus, modern.

Left: "Primitive" Hybrid gyr 'Tuuli' on traditional screen perch, and Right: "Modern" Harris hawk 'Charlie' on PVC pipe carry-pole

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