Friday, November 15, 2013

Trap Is Set (Thanks to Ed, Buddy, and Merlin)

Last night before I could head over to a friends house for a game of Agricola - I had the following things to check off my to-do list.

1. Feed the Sheep, horses, and goatling
2. Feed the chickens, rabbits, and nesting duck hen
3. Bring inside water bottles to defrost
4. Medicate and check on the lamb in special care
5. Carry water buckets
6. Cover winter greens
7. Feed dogs and cats

Oh, and close the trigger latch on the Swedish Hawk Trap, cover it with a cloth, and get feed to the pigeons in the cage below it. You know, normal farm stuff.

These last few Days of Grace before true winter is the rush, force, and hope that is the end of the hawk trapping season. Apprentice Falconers all over the northeast have either already trapped their passage hawks and kestrels. Experienced falconers are out enjoying the hunt, flying their readied birds and doing that ancient dance I can't wait for my fumbling feet to learn. Falconry, like archery, like riding and driving horses, like tending livestock, milking goats, learning kata, making soap and sewing cloaks - these old skills and ways are what make me shine. Every time I learn one I feel like I am given a key that unlocks a lost part of me. I know a lot of these things seem archaic, of fantasy, to a lot of people. To me it is the most comfortable and welcoming life possible. Land that feeds me, adventure right out the front door in the form of a horse cart ride through the country, a gallop up the mountain to visit Mr. Tucker, or to trap and train a hawk!

The trap on my hill is heavy, about the heft and size of a large doghouse. It's a frame with cage wire, a special pigeon compartment (with food and water) and a triggered perch. It is the most harmless way to catch a young bird. It has been sitting in my driveway since Saturday's disappointing anti-trapping, since it was too heavy to lift alone and I didn't know where Ed would want me to set it. When I got the last of my paperwork in, I called Ed and told him I was finally legit and he came over that same day to help me set up the trap. He asked me if I had a four-wheeler to move it. I said no. HE asked if there was a gate we could open that would fit a Jeep through? I said no, sorry.

But I had a horse and stone boat!

What goes better with falconry than horses, I ask you? Nothing, far as I'm concerned, so I had Merlin harnessed and ready to hitch by the time my mentor arrived. I hitched up Merlin to the stone boat holding the cumbersome trap and I drove him to the back field as if he had been assisting falconers his entire life with such tasks. Ed followed behind us with a small cage of pigeons protected with a burlap cloth. While Ed and I loaded and sprung the trap Merlin nibbled on the grass. It didn't take long for the apparatus to be readied and our work finished. Looking at the trap I had all sorts of questions and learned all about difference cultures traps. There are so many ways to snare a hawk it was baffling as it was fascinating. There were net traps, bent sapling traps, and traps loaded with homing pigeons that released them soon as a hawk was caught. Which meant the falconers knew to check the trap when the bird of the assigned color returned. It's the original text message. I was in awe of this clever history. And wait till you hear this, some falconers used to cover themselves up with leaves and dirt and tie a live pigeon to their belts on a short leash and then a bird landed on their bellies and started in on their fat meal the falconers would reach out and grab the bird by the legs! WILD!

This trap isn't as cool as pigeon texts and belt snatching but it is something marvelous in itself. It may trap a hawk, or it may not. I haven't seen the young male I am used to seeing watching my chickens, and he may already be long gone, head south at the first real frost. But even if I don't catch one here there's a chance we may all head upstate to a pheasant game park with a hawk problem that will allow us the privilege of trapping there. So my fingers are crossed, hope is high, and my hawking kit is ready to go. I have a great community, good teachers, and a horse that hauls Swedish hawk traps. It'll be just fine.