August 30, 2006

Talons

This week, when I asked my first year students why they came to Small Green School, one young man said, "It's the only school that would let me bring my hawk." His hawk? Yep. He is a falconer. He'd made special arrangements with OrnithologistGuy, who is on our faculty, and the red-tailed hawk is now living in a room at the top of the science building.

So this afternoon after class, a handful of students and I met Falconer in the big, park-like cemetery that adjoins our campus. Falconer held up a thick cowhide glove – a gauntlet, he called it – and told me to put it on my left hand. Following his directions, I stood still, with my arm raised in front of my face, my hand just a little higher than my elbow. He stuffed a piece of raw chicken between my thumb and fingers. Then he whistled to the hawk that was perched on a rock across the grassy lawn.

The hawk flew into the air, straight towards me, fast, and then landed lightly on the glove, just inches from my face. His sharp talons gripped the thick glove as he balanced, and he reached down with his hooked beak to rip apart the meat, swallowing it in a few gulps. His eyes, spaced on either side of his head, seemed to see everything as he swivelled his head about. A hawk's eyesight is eight times better than a human's. When I shifted my hand, the hawk opened his gorgeous brown-and-white wings, flapping until he was balanced again.

Today was a long day which included meeting a student at 8 am in my office, teaching three sections of my writing course, meeting with advisees, getting together with a colleague to sort through archival material, meeting with several independent study students, and teaching a 5 pm seminar. But what I am remembering from the day was that single moment -- standing in the cemetery watching the wings of a red-tailed hawk open.

41 comments:

Rev Dr Mom said...

How very, very cool!!!

Dr.K said...

Awesome! A great experience! And I think you know how much I admire hawks.

Kristen said...

What an amazing experience. Wow!

ppb said...

your students rock!

Ianqui said...

Coolest. Thing. Ever.

(OK, maybe a bald eagle would be just as cool, but I'm a big hawk fan too.)

Yankee, Transferred said...

stunning.

OneTiredEma said...

So cool!!! And three cheers to your school for allowing the hawk to attend.

Songbird said...

You just keep making us all want to come to school there, don't you?

Sarah Sometimes said...

I always think of shakespeare when I hear about falconers--and about trying to explain to my students what all that imagery is about in Romeo and Juliet. nice to hear about a real-live falconer and his hawk

Jane Dark said...

What Songbird said.

Linda (FM) said...

Wow! What a great experience. What did it feel like to have the hawk perched on your arm?

deMoMo said...

There is a place about an hour north of Toronto that I have wanted to go to for a long time. It is called the Falconry Centre. (http://www.falconrycentre.com/) They even have a falconry school there. It's something that I have always wanted to do!

Wol said...

Amazing and beautiful. How did Falconer get started--did he say?

ccw said...

What an amazing moment!

jo(e) said...

Dr. K: I did think of you ....

Sarah Sometimes: I always think of Yeats. "The falcon cannot hear the falconer."

Linda: The coolest thing was to be just so up close. I felt like a tree or something though, because the hawk just ignored me, mainly going after the meat and then looking around at any movement around us.

Wol: Falconer was about twelve when his grandfather said something about how people used to keep falcons. So he looked up stuff on the internet, and spent the next two years learning all he could learn via the internet. When he was 14, he was old enough to get a license and a bird.

Sara said...

Small Green rocks!

jo(e) said...

Sara: Yeah, I don't know many other colleges that would make such accomodations ....

Girl said...

TB and family and I took Falconry lessons at Gleneagles when we visited Scotland last September. It was an unforgettable experience.

I am so glad you got to do that, too.

turtlebella said...

Sounds amazing! I do so love the hawks...

Bardiac said...

Wow, talk about an amazing experience.

I'm interested that you felt like a tree. Neat to think about what the hawk's perspective on his perch is. Until you shift, though, I guess, then he thinks about you?

I imagine hawks are fairly heavy, too. I've acted as perch for some largish parrots on occasion, and they get heavy.

Great post!

Kelly said...

Awesome! How wonderful for you and for the student.

My five year old would like to be a falconer. My only consolation is that he's a young guy with many passions and this too will probably pass :)

jo(e) said...

Bardiac: My student told me to stand absolutely still, and so long as I did that, the hawk ignored me. He seemed to be responding mainly to movement, even things moving on the other side of the lawn.

The hawk weighed about three pounds, I'd guess. I think that would feel heavy after a while ....

Silver Creek Mom said...

I think I need your writing course, I have no good way to say..."HOW COOL IS THAT?!" I sound like a high school kid.

You live a inspiring life.

Hugs

Rana said...

That is seriously cool. "That" referring to hawk, student, and school, all at once.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

You just have the coolest experiences!!! (I love hawks too!)

Questing Parson said...

Your self-discipline is amazing. Had it been me classes would have been dismissed and I'd have remained with the hawk.

Honeybee said...

If you ever get a chance, every spring Braddock Bay Raptor Research does a Hawk Watch at the bay. Thousands of hawks fly over on their return from Canada because they have to go around Lake Ontario. They usually have a falcon banding demonstration etc.

I used to volunteer with them and it was one of the coolest things I've ever done. I've held red-tail hawks, eastern screech owls etc. while giving short eduational talks. I also got to volunteer at the banding station.

Nels said...

How freaking cool!

Scrivener said...

You really do rock, you know.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

You need to work more hawk assignments into your classes this semester. Redo your syllabi so that you have hawk days every time Falconer is available

Sfrajett said...

I love this story. I have always been fascinated by falconry and how the kind of bird you could hunt was determined by rank and gender. I can only imagine how wonderful it would feel to connect via the weight of a bird on your wrist with a whole world of other creatures in the wild. Awesome.

molly said...

Wow. About the coolest natural thing around here is the cardinal that lives in the park near my house. We see him often. This is wonderful.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

That's the coolest thing I've read all day. I think I need to get myself to Ontario, just to see hawks.

Dr. Mon said...

You definitely attract interesting people. Very cool.

cloudscome said...

This post gives me chills. What a fantastic way to start the year.

Not only a once in a lifetime experience for you, but a bonus teaching moment: your students saw teacher as learner in action. Now they really want to learn to write with you! Of course that's not why you did it, which is what makes it such a wonderful learning dynamic..

Erin said...

Oh wow! Sara's right!

It's easy to see why that would be the highlight of your day. Caring for and working with the red-tailed hawk was one of the best parts about my internship at Second Home Nature Center.

Prof Mama said...

That is so frickin' awesome.

Hate to sound like a surfer dude, but there is no other way to put it. Cool.

purple_kangaroo said...

Wow, that's so neat about the falcon.

Liesl said...

I know folks around here who keep hawks and other birds of prey. I'm always amazed by the beauty and aloofness of the birds. I envy your experience.

melnel said...

Molly directed me here because I wrote a post about a falconer too. That's a pretty cool story though...I think yours might beat mine. :)

YourFireAnt said...

Those guys see side to side like horses, don't they. Thus they need a head that turns 360 degrees. Better than eyes just in the back and the front of the head, hm?

I wonder, was there a smell? Did you want feathers all over your body afterward? Just to see?