Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wild Life

It was Barbara Kingsolver, the acclaimed author and scientist, who wrote (and I'm paraphrasing here) that most people know animals in three ways: people, their pets (which is to say, mini people), and wildlife. They would never consider chopping off the heads of any of these three, and rightly so. But animals are not just people, pets, and wildlife and those of us who work with animals every day have certainly learned this. Animals are also categorized as livestock (which is human property, legally speaking), or working partnerships such as duck retrieving sporting dogs, harnessed horses, truffle-hunting pigs or ratting terriers. We use animals to carry loads, pull sleds over ice and snow, and to protect our families. The examples are endless, and include both the domesticated and the wild. There are hawks like Italics, trained to take game with a human partner. But there are also reindeer pulling nomad's sledges and elephants carry passengers. Not all roles are ideal. I mean, I wouldn't want to be alligator bait - but the fact remains that human beings have been working alongside other animals since time out of mind, doing everything from hunting wolves in the Mongol Tundras to training ferrets to invade rabbit warrens. It's just not as common as it used to be.

People are not used to needing other species, not really. We no longer depend on horses to get from point A to B. We don't count on a team of beagles to put meat in the pot or a hawk to get enough protein to a lactating mother. And so these skills and practices are seen as primitive or cruel to people who know animals based on their Bichon or Discovery Channel Specials about ivory poaching. The idea of capturing a wild animal is sacrosanct. They will call foul at a falconer while biting into a bacon cheeseburger from a drive thru dollar menu after a day at the mall with a dog in a sweater. The mind reels.

I have received more comments and emails about falconry than any other activity I have ever pursued. Occasionally I get letters from vegans about turning Cold Antler into a petting zoo, or the stray comment about how horses were not put on earth to wear harnesses. I used to get notes about dogsledding, rabbit dinners, and the dangers of herding sheep with a border collie (to the border collie and the sheep, not me). But those sorts of correspondences were rare. But now I get a comment or letter a day questioning falconry, its purpose and ethics, and why I would take an animal from the wild to hunt when I have a gun, a trap, or a grocery store. It has upset people, not many, but enough. Enough to make me explain a few things at least. I hope to offer some perspective.

Folks, Paul Blair died today. The New York Times reported doubt on al Qaeda's involvement in Benghazi. Armed children are being forced to march in the south of Sudan. There's a nationwide manhunt for a cop killer. A Texas man is bragging about knocking out an elderly black man. Two men just died hours apart in Wyoming avalanches. A pregnant teen was murdered on Christmas day in Indiana…. These are the headlines available on Bing's News Section this morning. They are all worth your emotional response, comments, and action. You should read about Paul Blair's legacy playing baseball in a time of such racial unrest and hate in America, his story. You should worry about avalanches if you're of the ilk that hangs out around snow in volume, specifically in volume at higher elevations than yourself. Child soldiers should upset you, I mean, they BETTER upset you. If they don't you might be an android and should be melted for parts. Murder, assault, hate crimes…these are things worth getting upset over.

A falconer in New York State is not.

Yes. I have captured a wild hawk during its first migration. It is now being fed by me, trained by me, and soon it will be let go by me. But here's the thing. When I do let it go it's most likely going to land on a branch 30-60 feet away from me and if I raise a glove and whistle it'll choose to fly right back. Why? I haven't been slipping it Kool-Aid, it's because I have earned the hawk's trust. Italics knows I am not an animal that is going to hurt him, in fact I'm going to help him. I consistently offer food and shelter along with the freedom to leave at any moment he is soaring free. This is because Italics was not out in the wild soaring to Enya songs and landing at random Pow Wows to spread his wings in the name of the Great Spirit. He was a wild animal, doing what all wild animals do every day of their lives: trying not to die. Red-tails have a 90% mortality rate before they reach breeding age around two years. That's not because of falconers. In fact, next time you catch a glimpse of a wild peregrine falcon - you can thank a falconer. Their efforts in protecting, capturing, and breeding the animal is why we didn't lose the entire species to DDT a few decades ago. They are also why the Peregrine Fund exists. Google it.

Falconry isn't slavery, it's codependency. We depend on each other to work as partners for a goal that is mutually beneficial to us both as an evolutionary species. And around this farm that is nothing new. When this blog started I was running sled dogs in Idaho, raising rabbits for spinning wool, chickens for eggs, and bees for honey. Since then I have raised sheep for wool (and sheepdog training), goats for milk and soap, pigs for pork, rabbits for meat, poultry for eggs, and horses to ride and pull. All animals on this land are here for a reason. I either use them for work, transportation, or food. The hawk is also here to be of use. He's here to hunt by my side, and help put healthy meat on the table in the form of game. I can not wait for the chance to go out as a team and flush rabbits, grouse, pheasants, and squirrels. These are things we both eat and enjoy. It is not about sport, but groceries.

I very much like that I am learning this ancient form of feeding myself. It connects me to the ages and has taught me so much about raptors a whole new world of ornithology, flight patterns, nesting habits and identification has opened up to me. I have become an amateur naturalist and learned to appreciate these animals in ways I never even thought possible. I also like the relationship I am creating with this individual. Learning to communicate with a hawk is WILD, a total thrill and if we can get to the point where I can walk into a field and set him free, hike and poke at brush below him while he watches from above, and take game to feed him and myself...that is sublime to me. It seems a lot more natural than a shotgun. It seems a lot less hard on nature than traplines or the noise pollution of rifles. And while hunting is the skill - it is the entire community and process that has me hooked. I have met so many great people, shared meals and stories, was given advice and equipment, leant books and time...the selflessness of this subculture astounds me. It is so beautiful, and I feel blessed to be a small part of it.

And if the idea of a bird of prey living at my property still offends you, well, that's your prerogative. But stop and consider where that lands on the Scale of Import in a world with creeping mortality, child soldiers, factory farms, hate crimes, and crooked politicians? Why, darling, are you wasting your energy on this? We all only have so much anger in us and I would suggest not wasting it on a legal sport practiced by a small minority. Use that disdain to make the world a better place for all animals, starting with your fellow man. That's what I'm doing. Every time I get a complaint about falconry I set a can aside for my local food bank. I figure if people are going to punch under water someone better get something good out of it.

I am so proud of my work with Italics. I am excited to wake up every day and see what he has to teach me. Falconry has gifted me a goal, friendships, and experiences I will never forget. Someday I hope to get to the point where I am the one teaching others how to capture their first bird, or showing a class of students patterns on tails and telling tales of the one that got away in the sunset on a perfect October day. Falconry is beautiful, messy, frustrating, bloody, satisfying, terrifying, and rewarding as hell. It's life bottled up and carried in your pocket, but so much more than a novel or a song, because this life has a bird on the fist and a partnership created out of blood, sweat, and effort beyond most Bicon owner's ken. It isn't wild life, it is a Wild Life. And I sure as hell wouldn't trade that in for a 100% approval rating.

49 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth from the Berkshires said...

Yet another example of your awesomeness. You are my best reminder not to get sucked into the machine that is the mainstream.

December 29, 2013 at 9:25 PM  
Blogger Paul Molnar said...

Another wonderful post, Jenna!

December 29, 2013 at 9:50 PM  
Blogger nat said...

AMEN! Wonderful post :)

December 29, 2013 at 9:57 PM  
Blogger Diane Munson said...

You are a falconer - you go girl!

December 29, 2013 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger Glyndalyn said...

Falconry would be an awesome skill to learn.

December 29, 2013 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger Glyndalyn said...

Falconry would be an awesome skill to learn.

December 29, 2013 at 10:19 PM  
OpenID rawketstarling said...

PREACH, girl. love your admonishment to get some perspective. i was just explaining to my (vegan) boyfriend tonight why falconry is such an awesome thing you do. i love your Wild Life. GET. IT.

December 29, 2013 at 10:49 PM  
Blogger Fernleaf said...

Very well put Jenna! Another fantastic post, you have such a gift with words :)

December 29, 2013 at 11:08 PM  
Blogger Sandy said...

When we were children, we were told never to feed wild animals or they would become dependent on us for their food and never be able to survive on their own in the wild again...so how does this logic affect falcons when they are set free? Honest question (yes, I Googled it but got varying replays), not a criticism...but if you want to slide another can good to the food bank...it's all good! =o)

December 30, 2013 at 12:18 AM  
Blogger CT said...

If I wasn't in love with you before, I certainly am now!
Great post!

December 30, 2013 at 12:55 AM  
Blogger CT said...

If I wasn't in love with you before, I certainly am now!
Great post!

December 30, 2013 at 12:56 AM  
Blogger Sharon said...

A good post, don't let 'em get to you. Great photo!

December 30, 2013 at 1:00 AM  
Blogger Cat H said...

Word.

December 30, 2013 at 4:33 AM  
Blogger Karen from CT said...

Great post Jenna-loking forward to all your reports on the progress with your beautiful bird.

December 30, 2013 at 6:52 AM  
Blogger Kevin and Beth said...

I grew up in the country, watching the hard life of most of the wild animals. Actually not most, all of the wild animals. I've seen deer taken down by dogs, it's an awful way to go. Most people raised in the country would say that this hawk is very lucky to be caught by Jenna. The life of any wild animal is brutal, from start to finish. In one way or another, wild animals are there to feed other wild animals. There's no happy ending.

December 30, 2013 at 7:26 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

Well said, Jenna. And I love the picture.

December 30, 2013 at 7:50 AM  
Blogger Elaine said...

I enjoyed this post very much. I must say that I had the same questions regarding taking a wild hawk captive to use for hunting ... I went to the internet for information and found plenty of it that supports what you have said here. You have my blessing (not that you need it) and a hearty congratulations on following yet another dream.

December 30, 2013 at 9:47 AM  
Blogger Holly said...

Love that you are doing the food bank donation response. It takes the negativity and changes it into a positive response. What I find concerning is the lack of tolerance the world shows when someone pursues a different path. So, kudos to you, Jenna, for having courage to blog about your experiences.

December 30, 2013 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig said...

Thank you for addressing falconry and your work with Italics. (Even if a bit defensively. But hey, I'm not in your shoes and don't read your email, maybe it was necessary.) I am one that wasn't crazy about the idea, thought it was cruel to trap him, blindfold him, and make him a "pet". (But never thought it terrible enough to curse you in an email.) BUT, that was before you explained how it works. (and maybe you did before and I missed it? ...or, better yet, I could have done my OWN research?) Either way, now that you've explained how it works...that he's free to be wild...well, that makes such a difference. And now I can't say that I wouldn't be willing to give it a try myself should I have the chance.

Regardless...you are living a good life. It's admirable. I think you are very brave. Keep it up...regardless of what others may think.:)

December 30, 2013 at 10:02 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

I certainly respect your right to live your life as you see fit. However, you shouldn't be so surprised and insulted that your readers don't always agree with your choices. You put your life experiences in a blog for any and everyone to read and I guess you'll just have to take the not-so-flattering comments along with the rest.

December 30, 2013 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

I wholeheartedly respect your right to live your life as you see fit. However, you have put your life experiences and choices and opinions on a blog for anyone and everyone to read and our comments may not always be flattering.

December 30, 2013 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger Natalie said...

I'm enjoying watching your journey with Italics, it's a fascinating and it's a part of history that would be lost without folks like you. Ignore the folks that don't understand and know that their are many more of us that do understand and are inspired by your blog, thank you for putting yourself out there and sharing

December 30, 2013 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Natalie said...

I'm enjoying watching your journey with Italics, it's a fascinating and it's a part of history that would be lost without folks like you. Ignore the folks that don't understand and know that their are many more of us that do understand and are inspired by your blog, thank you for putting yourself out there and sharing

December 30, 2013 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger The Village Queen said...

I bet these are the same people who bitch zoos are cruel. Well some are but zoos are also the only place some species exist now because the bitchers don't put any energy behind the destruction of habitat and poaching. I totally agree with the view you are saving him, out here in the west I see all sorts of hawks killed either by the traffic or stupid people with guns even where they are 'protected'. Ignore the whiners. What a privilege to be so close to a beautiful creature, I find it amazing this developed so quickly. Enjoy every moment! Have you figured out a cool perch to attach to your saddle yet? I can just see it... so neat. Carry on Jenna!

December 30, 2013 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger melody_cir said...

Great post, Jenna. I think that so many complainers are too removed from the reality of life. Why focus on your handsome treatment of a lucky hawk when children here in the USA are starving? When unemployment is being cut off for those in our county where there are no jobs available that could feed a family? We have hungry people who refuse to apply for welfare- it's not their way. There are so many people and animals that are at risk in our country and other areas in the world (pythons in the Everglades, Rental circus elephants with TB who are locked in a dark barn all winter instead of getting treated, most of us could go on and on about abuse of humans, children forced to fight, beatings, etc.) I'm so proud of you, and am left open-mouthed at people who feel they have complaints about how you live your life. I find it hard enough to get MY life in order. And I applaud your idea of the food bank. Our churches are hard pressed to keep our food banks more than empty. I am encouraged by all your efforts to live your life the way that fits you best. Keep it up, young 'un.

December 30, 2013 at 12:08 PM  
Blogger Marianne cas said...

I live vicariously through you, and what a wonderful post! People tend to forget that just a few short years ago, hunting, fishing, etc was what people did to survive.

December 30, 2013 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger jules said...

So Jenna, where'd you get that great hat?

December 30, 2013 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger Vanessa Hutchinson said...

Well and kindly said. It is hard to address the ire of strangers in a logical, compassionate way, and I think you've nailed it. Can't wait to see how things progress with Italics. I am admiring you from afar.

December 30, 2013 at 2:54 PM  
Blogger Marilyn Noakes said...

I'm so glad I found this blog! I have often thought that in the scope of the universe what people complain about is so small. I think what you are doing and trying to do is so much bigger than what people need to complain about. Keep going forward!

December 30, 2013 at 5:00 PM  
Blogger Marilyn Noakes said...

I'm so glad I found this blog! All of us con only live our lives how we see fit.In the scope of the universe what people complain about is so small. So you keep on going forward and I'll walk with you! Take Care.

December 30, 2013 at 5:04 PM  
Blogger Lynnanne said...

The thing about raptors and most wild animals (even if they've been legally bred in captivity for several generations) is this: you can take the animal out of the wild, but you can never take the wild out of the animal. These animals have instincts and that's something that can't be bred out of them.

As for working with raptors, you will not see this bird become "tame." You will see a "trained" bird. There is a huge difference. Will this bird trust Jenna? Yes. But will it want to get all cozy on the couch and watch the Discovery Channel and think to itself that this really is a wonderful life? Not in this lifetime.

Congrats on the training, Jenna!

~ Lynnanne

December 30, 2013 at 5:43 PM  
Blogger renate said...

bravo. i admire your way with words and how you tread lightly upon this world. you're an amazing spirit, jenna. all the best in 2014!

December 30, 2013 at 5:48 PM  
Blogger luckybunny said...

I just wanted to say, I really enjoyed this post and read it a few times today. I appreciate your writing style and your very valid points made throughout. I very much enjoy following you - your writing, your farm, your adventures, and this new adventure is a grand one indeed and I find it a very spiritual and special bond you have and are creating with this wild being. I do not find any cruelty within and I couldn't agree more that some people need to examine their heads when it comes to what they really want to cause a fuss about and what happens every single day in the world that they very easily ignore. I appreciate that you have opened comments back up, sometimes it's nice to see the discussion but I understand why you stopped. It amazes me though that so many people find so much time in their busy lives to criticize you though... especially since I highly doubt most of those people are even coming from an educated place, just an emotional one. Another reason why it's good to remember to use our heads instead of our emotions more often before we speak, or write. Regardless while this is not something that has ever interested me, I find myself continuing to be amazed by your journey and story and enjoying this chapter!

December 30, 2013 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger Red Beard said...

Yes, Jenna has trapped a wild animal. An important point that is not made strongly enough is that anytime she lets that bird off her arm, when outside, it is free to fly away and never come back. So, yes, the hawk is still wild and being trained for a purpose, but is still wild nonetheless and has ample opportunity to reclaim that freedom.

December 30, 2013 at 9:29 PM  
Blogger crazymimi said...

It is very simple you are spending so much time training Italics, he is being fed and taken care of every day, when the time comes for him to hunt for you he will know that he is free and when he brings back his first kill, he will be telling you how much he is thankful for the safe place you have provided for him!

December 30, 2013 at 9:46 PM  
Blogger Patti said...

Make another donation to your food bank for me.

December 30, 2013 at 10:29 PM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

This is your blog, and more importantly, this is your life. Through your sharing, we have been granted a window into your experiences. I, for one, am very grateful. May any criticism you receive be like water on a duck's back, and just slide away. Happy New Year!

December 30, 2013 at 11:52 PM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

This is your blog, and more importantly, this is your life. Through your sharing, we have been granted a window into your experiences. I, for one, am very grateful. May any criticism you receive be like water on a duck's back, and just slide away. Happy New Year!

December 30, 2013 at 11:52 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

One of my favorite movies is Ladyhawke with Matthew Broderick. So thinking of you riding a black horse with a hawk on your arm, seems like something you would do. Last summer a hawk attacked one of my hens, but got scared and flew away leaving me with the chicken to kill. Not nice.
There are a pair of hawks that have a nest here every year. I love hearing the young hawks calling to the parents " I can't find any food, come feed me" and the adult hawk waits then in one deep call says " stop talking and keep hunting" When the youngester does get something, he just sits down on the ground and eats it.

December 31, 2013 at 8:14 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

One of my favorite movies is Ladyhawke with Matthew Broderick. So thinking of you riding a black horse with a hawk on your arm, seems like something you would do. Last summer a hawk attacked one of my hens, but got scared and flew away leaving me with the chicken to kill. Not nice.
There are a pair of hawks that have a nest here every year. I love hearing the young hawks calling to the parents " I can't find any food, come feed me" and the adult hawk waits then in one deep call says " stop talking and keep hunting" When the youngester does get something, he just sits down on the ground and eats it.

December 31, 2013 at 8:14 AM  
Blogger Léah said...

I've always wanted to learn how to do this. Keep posting!

December 31, 2013 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger Léah said...

I've always wanted to learn this skill, it's on my list for when I have my own homestead :)

December 31, 2013 at 9:54 AM  
Blogger Cassandra said...

Really, really great post today, Jenna. Thank you!

December 31, 2013 at 10:46 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Your falconry references reminded me of a funny story. An ex of mine was an apprentice falconer, and eventually the day came to release his female red shouldered hawk. Turns out he and his mentor didn't travel far enough, and about a week later he came home to her perched next to the now empty mews! She missed the easy food and free shelter. I think they ended up driving to a different part of the state to make sure she wouldn't find her way back again.

December 31, 2013 at 2:26 PM  
Blogger "MY HIGH ALTITUDE ATTITUDE" said...

Great post Jenna. I love that you are doing the food bank donation. I must admit I was planning to shift my slight PAYPAL stipend for enjoying the blog to another worthy cause but have changed my mind. Love to pay for a few cans of food for the uninformed. So it is Cold Antler Farm for another year.

December 31, 2013 at 3:56 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

You should do another one of your "head count" posts, where you say how many of everyone is hanging around the farm. I find them interesting. Great post though, I enjoy how you talk about Italics.

December 31, 2013 at 11:08 PM  
Blogger Karen Rickers said...

This article cleared up some misconceptions up for me. I was worried that the hawk would spend a lot of time hooded, in the dark, in a cage. Good to know that I was wrong.

I do think it's a positive thing when people speak out against something they think is wrong (as long as they do it with kindness and respect), and honestly, you're argument that there's bigger evil to be concerned with in the world doesn't hold water for me, as we all, in my opinion, have an obligation to confront mistreatment in our own little corner of the universe. The child soldiers deserve compassion and action, but so does the one dog being mistreated somewhere in Kamloops,

But I'm glad to know I can take Italics off my worry list.

Good article.

January 1, 2014 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger blind irish pirate said...

Fuh-can-yeah.

One of the vets here has a son who picked up falconry around the same time you started writing about your interests. I was amazed, literally speechless - no response - to learn about the mortality of bird of prey, and how fostering them was one way to ensure their survival. It's compelling, some form of conservation has never once crossed my mind.

January 2, 2014 at 9:15 PM  
Blogger By Candlelight Farm said...

Stay strong! I have grown up on a farm and live on one now. I am struck by the strong positions some take (usually negative) when they know nothing whatsoever about the activity. Sigh...

April 4, 2014 at 10:55 AM  

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