What do you think of when you think of falconry? In my head I see medieval knights atop warhorses with a raptor perched majestically on their chain mail clad arm. Obviously I have wild imagination issues. (Did people ever hunt with falcons from horseback? Probably not.) But even with my overactive imagination, I never really considered that people still practice falconry today. They do though, and author Rebecca O'Connor has written a beautiful memoir weaving falconry with her life.
The prologue opens with O'Connor and her peregrine out on a hunt. The falcon has injured a duck and O'Connor knows that she should put the duck out of its misery, as other professionals do, but she finds herself incapable of the quick, merciful pulling out of the duck's heart, wondering instead just who exactly she in relation to to this quick and impressive falcon, master, partner, or servant. From this somewhat grisly but introspective beginning, O'Connor peers into the very heart of her life, her love of birds, and the seductive appeal of the centuries old art of falconry.
Intertwined with the story of buying and training a peregrine, an act equal parts skill, luck, and trust, is the story of O'Connor's life with her falconer boyfriend, her somehwat estranged mother, and the grandfather who introduced her to and fostered her love of birds. While the chapters on the raising and training of Anakin were fascinating, the portions where O'Connor reflects on how her life is wrapped up in the majesty and religious experience of hunting with her bird are equally appealing. She has woven the threads of her life and relationships skillfully around and through the story of the frustrating and magnificent bird. Her descriptions of the natural world, the nature of prey and predator, and the delicate balance that exists between us all, human and animal, are lush and vivid, evocative and elusive, thoughtful and startlingly insightful.
It was lovely to be let into the world of this slight memoir and to examine the arc of relationships through the world of falconry. O'Connor's choice of working in concert with Anakin seems to mirror her own conscious choice to build a relationship with her mother. And although this metaphor could seem forced, it doesn't. It simply works and works beautifully. The writing is lyrical and yet somehow spare at the same time. The revealing nature of O'Connor's struggles with training Anakin let the reader into her life and head and also cause much self-reflection as well. This hypnotic glimpse into an ancient pastime will entrance more than just the falconry community. It should please anyone interested in memoirs.
Thanks to author Rebecca O'Connor for sending me a copy of the book for review.