Book Review: H is for Hawk

A couple a Saturdays ago, I was geeking out at a falconry demonstration that came to town (it actually was part of a Harry Potter conference, where I learned how to write with a quill, peruse ancient texts, and live for a day at Hogwarts – I was in heaven!).

Anyway, back to falconry.

I always thought falconry was a dead art; something that only existed in medieval times. I also thought that whatever birds of prey used in falconry (if it was indeed still practiced) were birds that were bred in captivity and trained at birth by human hands to be the hunting companions that they would grow up to be. Well, my first thought was wrong. Falconry is alive and well today and is one of the most respected and ancient forms of hunting out there. My second thought was partly incorrect. There are birds used in falconry that are born in captivity,  but for the most part, you catch the birds in the  wild while they are young, train them to be your hunting companion for a year or so, and then release them back into the wild.

Throughout the presentation, we learned about the history of falconry and then eventually met some stars of the show: Kylo, the Harris’ Hawk and Chase, the Red-Tailed Hawk.

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After that day, I just wanted to read as much as I could about falconry and in my quest, I came across H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald.

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One part memoir, one part naturalist’s text, one part literary muse, this book follows the story of Helen (the author) as she trains a goshawk in lieu of her father’ passing.

Granted, I still knew rather nothing about falconry at the time that I read this book (sans the basic knowledge that I gained from the presentation) and as I closed the pages, I was astounded by the knowledge that I had gained about this ancient skill just by reading Helen’s story. She is a remarkable writer and her connection to nature is inspiring. She goes beyond mere observation of her goshawk (Mabel) and treats her as an equal. It’s a great thing, when that barrier is crossed between man and animal, and it’s amazing that this can occur between humans and wild birds of prey. I think that’s what really astounded me about Helen and her relationship with Mabel, because Mabel isn’t a domesticated pet; her lineage doesn’t consist of thousands of years of human interaction and conditioning. Yet, Helen shows that with respect and regard for another species, everlasting relationships can be formed – and that, sometimes, these cross-species friendships and relationships, can have the most profound affect on our lives.

 

 

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