Decades later, I still watch them, count them out — the roadside, waterside running —
point out the red-tailed hawks, the bald eagles, the peregrines and osprey.
There’s nothing on earthly experience quite like getting close to one of these birds — and in the poetry of studying them, leaning in — you might know that one path to get close to the big birds is Falconry. When I was first exploring the “art” of Falconry, as a teenager, it was defined as “the sport of kings.” I couldn’t imagine that there were communities in the Pacific Northwest. But there are, still running. Given the character of the birds, there are State restrictions and protections, as well. The real tradition, hunting with, training Falcons as literal “life partner birds,” is perhaps more than 4,000 years old, a global tradition — every falconer starts as a falconer’s apprentice
That is where I began, in Spokane.
The training, in working with the big birds, requires a bonding of absolute trust — between the falconer and the bird. Trust happens in working with a bird that’s a chick or a fledgling. You can never start a relationship with a grown bird. What that means, and what limited my time with “a” big bird, was the living in, having the bird in the house, in close proximity, that means living with the bird — as a baby chick, then growing up with the bird; letting it grow up with you. Smelling you, being around your movements and sounds, you share that early life. Interestingly, my Mom and Dad weren’t too keen into that idea — bringing a bird in, like that. It’s pretty committed relationship and household-altering positioning.
With a warm barn room, a wood stove, it’s possible; but a big bird isn’t easy. Newspaper in a cage isn’t an option — raptors stand on a grip, with talons as sharp as awls — a beak like a polished steel hook. Instead, I was an apprentice, a carrier — a handler.
Looking into the eyes of a raptor — eye to eye, only inches from your face, is an unforgettable experience.
The idea of seeing — deeply, precisely, close and far, newer levels of attention that are almost impossibly imaginable, animal focus — is wholly changed in being with, close by, the raptors. Because this is how, and what, they see. Indeed — rapt attention — the rapture, the capture of wholly engaged attention is a profoundly powerful revelation. Something we’ve noted in other blogs.
My mother forwarded this story, of another captivated by the spirit of the “big bird.”
“A true story: http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/freedom.asp
And the story | Freedom + Jeff.
Life changing encounters with Raptors
Freedom and Jeff
“Freedom and I have been together 11 years this summer.
She came in as a baby in 1998 with two broken
wings. Her left wing doesn’t open all the way
even after surgery, it was broken in 4
places. She’s my baby.
When Freedom came in she could not stand
and both wings were broken. She was
emaciated and covered in lice. We made the
decision to give her a chance at life, so I took
her to the vets office. From then
on, I was always around her. We had her in a
huge dog carrier with the top off, and it
was loaded up with shredded newspaper for her to
lay in. I used to sit and talk to her,
urging her to live, to fight; and she would lay
there looking at me with those big brown eyes.
We also had to tube feed her for weeks.
This went on for 4-6 weeks, and by then she still
couldn’t stand. It got to the point where the
decision was made to euthanize her if she
couldn’t stand in a week. You know you don’t
want to cross that line between torture and
rehab, and it looked like death was
winning. She was going to be put
down that Friday, and I was supposed to come in
on that Thursday afternoon. I didn’t want to go
to the center that Thursday, because I couldn’t
bear the thought of her being euthanized;
but I went anyway, and when I walked in everyone
was grinning from ear to ear. I went
immediately back to her cage; and there she was,
standing on her own, a big beautiful
eagle. She was ready to live. I was
just about in tears by then. That
was a very good day.
We knew she could never fly, so the director
asked me to glove train her. I got her used to
the glove, and then to jesses, and we
started doing education programs for schools in
We wound up in the newspapers,
radio (believe it or not) and some
TV. Miracle Pets even did a show
In the spring of 2000, I was diagnosed with
non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I had stage 3,
which is not good (one major organ plus
everywhere), so I wound up doing 8 months of
chemo. Lost the hair – the whole
bit. I missed a lot of work. When I
felt good enough, I would go to Sarvey
and take Freedom out for walks. Freedom would
also come to me in my dreams and help me fight
the cancer. This happened time and time again.
Fast forward to November 2000, the day after
Thanksgiving. I went in for my last
checkup. I was told that if the cancer was not
all gone after 8 rounds of chemo, then my last
option was a stem cell transplant. Anyway, they
did the tests; and I had to come back Monday for
the results. I went in Monday, and I was
told that all the cancer was gone.
So the first thing I did was get up to Sarvey and
take the big girl out for a walk. It was misty
and cold. I went to her flight and jessed her
up, and we went out front to the top of the
hill. I hadn’t said a word to
Freedom, but somehow she knew. She looked at me
and wrapped both her wings around me to where I
could feel them pressing in on my back
(I was engulfed in eagle wings), and she
touched my nose with her beak and stared into my
eyes, and we just stood there like that
for I don’t know how long. That was a
magic moment. We have been soul mates ever
since she came in. This is a very special bird.
On a side note: I have had people who
were sick come up to us when we are out, and
Freedom has some kind of hold on
them. I once had a guy who was
terminal come up to us and I let him hold
her. His knees just about buckled and he
swore he could feel her power course through his
body. I have so many stories like that.
I never forget the honor I have of being so close
to such a magnificent spirit as
Being close to big birds creates a link to an ancient legacy — being linked to them, manifests a deep and compelling line of wisdom, one that reaches back thousands of years, where the rapture of the hunt for food, creates a powerful attachment between beings. Others explore the ancient hunting alliance between birds, animals and human kind.
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