Monday, June 08, 2009

The Apprentice

Falconry continues through the ages in one of two ways: Either it springs spontaneously from the fertile mind of some bootstrapping biophile, or it passes down from one to another through an apprenticeship.

Some combination of the two is also possible. My own introduction to the sport was largely self-starting but later molded by a series of formal and less formal apprenticeships.

I’ve sponsored two apprentices myself, both of them a while back; they are now experienced, successful falconers and longtime friends. Others (maybe half a dozen) have expressed serious interest in falconry and come so far along as to swing by the house for a tour or attend a local hunt. Several dozen more over the last 25 years have called or emailed once but not been seen since.

This year, finally, one seems on track to go the distance. I signed his state paperwork last week and will get a tour of his new-built facility some weekend soon. He has been over for a visit and gone hunting. He bought a number of good books and the necessary equipment. He is bright and young enough to do the work and to enjoy it, I think, fully.

I wish him well and will help him on his way, or help him at least build the foundation of what could be a much larger and longer-term project.

Should he persevere, his involvement will grow, and his sport will take a shape all its own. My role will morph and diminish in time. Someday (sooner than it seems possible to him now), we will be colleagues and fellow journeymen in a sport that is bigger than us both.

But I have to say the odds do not favor his perseverance. There is no lack of character or desire to blame but rather the facts of his well-established career and family that could easily end his falconry, as they have many others’. Something will have to shift---maybe everything---to accommodate the practice of this new passion. The elements of his life must change shape along with his falconry, “so long as they both shall live.”

There is not much I can do to affect the outcome of that. At one time I thought the sponsor’s role large enough to have vast influence and carry great responsibility for the student’s future.

It is not, and it does not, although it is nonetheless vital for any real progress in falconry.

So this new practitioner will have to do what I have done and what all do who remain: continue to learn from his own experiences and from others, and continue to stoke the fire of his interest in the sport so that it will reward a lifetime of learning. At its heart, falconry requires a love for its elements, the hawks, the prey and their shared environment, that is not convenient or even sensible in any modern context. It is wholly of another time and state of mind. I find it good for that reason and innumerable others.


Teddy said...

Matt, great description of letting an apprentice try his wings. I've had four, three of which are now deep into the sport, gratifyingly fine falconers. One didn't make the cut, for which we are both grateful. Well written piece, thanks.

Matt Mullenix said...

Thanks, Teddy. :-)

Anonymous said...

Two recent apprentice experiences. One, a young Arab of considerable experience, possibly being made to "start over" here in the states, and my current friend who has been "sucked away" into the exciting world of international raptor research. I hope I am wrong but she may never get a falconry license. Possibly will some day,with or without my humble help.