Thursday, January 02, 2014

"First the Hawk..."

Matt Mullenix is still part of the team here at Q, but has temporarily misplaced his access, so has asked me to post these reflections on perfectionism he wrote down after yesterday's hawking, and my response.

The phrase comes from the useful maxim, one of the first any aspiring falconer should memorize and carve on his brain: "First the hawk, then the horse, then the hounds; then and only then the humble falconer."

The other quote is the rueful old saying, which I may have engraved on a buckle some day: "De chiens, d'oyseaux, d'armes, d'amours, pour une joie, cent doleurs." [In hounds, hawks, arms, and love, for one joy, a hundred sorrows].


On a long drive there's a nagging worry of carbon monoxide.  A seeping, silent hazard that is like worry itself, insubstantial and consequential.

This was our third cross-country hawking trip of the season and like every one before, it garnered near-equal parts elation and anxiety, effort and expense that bettered breaking even, although at times not by much.     

The car is new this year, which is an encouragement, and ‘tested' for CO by an uneventful Thanksgiving trip of nearly 2,000 miles—uneventful, that is, in that the hawk didn’t die of gas poisoning.  Which means we’re probably safe for the trip home, about 600 miles to go in the morning. 

My dog is with us this time and in no danger from carbon monoxide, even if the parts per million exceed what a hawk can tolerate.  But she stands up most of the way on trips of any distance, for hours at a time, and pants herself into a state of dehydration that usually results in her vomiting most of the water she laps up on arrival.

In short, just getting around is a minor trial and takes much of the fun out of travel that should be the reason you go at all.

Hawking itself brings another, almost infinite universe of theoretical hazard. Breaking down the series of events in a typical hunt minute to minute makes each of them seem a small miracle that it’s generally the quarry that dies and not the hawk, dog or falconer.

Add a couple of consecutive days of hunting in a strange place and at odd times, and the potential for disaster grows exponentially, or at least appears to.  Certainly wear and tear on the working members of the team begins to show.

At one point this week a rabbit pushed out to my right and behind me, prompting the hawk to twist backward off the carry pole and slant into a ground-ward stoop.  The dog appeared then and both predators converged on the rabbit in a pile of teeth and talons that merged into a writhing black mass in the dirt. 

The dog yelped as the bunny slid out from beneath the pile. The hawk turned to face his partner in a gunslinger’s stance, crest up and feet ready to deliver another wingshot. His own wing, the right one, was thoroughly matted with dog saliva and I knew what must have happened.

At some point in the melee, which lasted no more than two or three seconds, Rina mouthed Ernie's wing or worse, bit him mistakenly for the rabbit and received a quick footing in the face or chest or whatever part of her was closest.  Suddenly the hunt was over and the making of a disaster had begun.

Yelling and cursing.  Kneeing to the hawk while the dog slinks out of reach.  I gather the bird up and run my hands over his body, then with sick certainty of finding open wounds and crushed bone, down along the right wing. 

But nothing.  No injury found, just a sticky wet mass of primary and secondary feathers, none of them even creased.  I fan them and check again, now underneath, now the legs, now the feet, the other wing.  Nothing.

I look at Rina, panting nearby and bleeding from thorn tears to her forelegs and from her tongue, all expected from two days in the briar patch, and I think again about resuming the hunt.  There’s that rabbit still alive, somewhere, and others.

My friend and I step forward with heads shaking at another 'bullet dodged' or so we hope.  We catch a rabbit a few minutes later but call it a day with that one. 

The walk back to the truck becomes a beaten retreat.  The dog limps on pads full of sand spurs and the hawk sits the fist, sated by accumulated meals of sparrow and rabbit.  Does his wing hang a little?  Is he favoring a foot?  Hard to tell.  In fact, I’m never satisfied about it.

Cleaning the rabbit I look for obvious signs of illness and find none.  The liver looks good.  White fat surrounds the kidneys.  It looks good enough to eat, and we'll all dine on it soon.  But standing back up I shake my head, unable to enjoy that thought or what was by any measure a successful hunt with a good friend and good animals.

What’s wrong with me? I ask my friend. How come I can’t manage a morning of falconry without finding something to worry about?

There’s an old adage that comes to mind when I’m thinking about my hawking, especially before and after a hunt: "First the hawk, then the horse, then the hound, then and only then the lowly falconer.”

It’s practical advice for how to manage your charges in falconry, which is why it persists as true today as ever.  Moreover, it reminds me where the falconer’s pleasure is taken in this strange hobby of ours: last.

Steve again: I replied and he asked that I record that reply here. Me:

Been there for sure.

Actually my neurosis ( with same cause?) manifests differently: I try more, the older I get, to have only perfect field partners so as to have more fun than WORRY, starting with my elaborate imprinting. Some dogs I will not take out with a bird. Some birds I will not take out. Some of each go to other homes because I can't get comfortable working with them. Mima's attack on Lashyn was one strike and out, and she had been perfect up to that point.

Every dog must be confident and obedient and utterly polite with birds and ride well outside of a box and be instantly recall- able. Got one left like that, and plan one more like her (And for me, must be a female tazi of Atai's, ie my best, line).

Every bird must be a quiet non mantling dog- friendly people- comfortable bird that travels well and either flies into a box or puts its head into a hood, and can live on a house perch. HAVE had that and don't now, and hope to again.

I keep most dogs I have to adults (who else would take them? Actually many but...) but pass on hawks (& guns) which I add because I have passed on examples of both I realize I could have "fiixed". Mental note never again.

I don't like losing my animals in any way. I realize that a combination of perfectionism, age, isolation, poverty, reduced physical ability, and neurosis is making it difficult and has probably robbed me of a season when I can ill afford it. But Ataika is still perfect and if I can maintain mobility I will pay a lot to start one more hound-- an Atai granddaughter-- and hawk-- it will have to be a hardy long lived bird-- while I still can..

We are all nuts. You know the old French saying about hawks and hounds...


"For every joy, a thousand woes."

Our perfectionism will destroy the pleasure of everything, except of course when it happens perfectly. :-)

And we can hope for that, can't we? 


Federico said...

How can I resist this excellent opportunity?

'The road to hell is paved with good intention'

'Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
Dit que le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.'

(which is claimed by Voltaire, despite the fact I am both wise and Italian).

Anonymous said...

A question--are raptors more susceptible to carbon dioxide poisoning than other critters?....L.B.

Federico said...

I think all birds are -- canaries and mines come to mind...

Cat Urbigkit said...

Glorious twain of wild and domestic, fear and elation. Dear Matt, our lives on the range - so similar while so different - share the vital components for grand adventure, and disaster. Wishing you much joy.

Cindy Kadohata said...

Hello, sorry to bother you. My name is Cindy Kadohata, and I interviewed you last year. I just changed computers and no longer have your e-mail address. Do you think you could possibly send it to me? Thank you so much!!!!! cinbird @

Steve Bodio said...

I think you found it, but it is "ebodio at gilanet dot com"

Guy Boyd said...

Matt and Steve, you did a good job of capturing falconer's fears and aspirations. Because of these fears I will not fly today.The wind and cold of the polar vortex make it inadvisable. So I will have the guilty pleasure of not worring about barbwire, eagles, unethical wildfowl hunters, a lost falcon, and another hundred things. And tomorrow when reason and experience haunt me with the assurance that calamity will come sooner or later, I'll tale solace in the words of Tennyson:

A wormth within the breast would melt

The freezing reason's colder part,

And like a man in wrath the heart

Stood up and answered 'I have felt.'