Friday, October 28, 2005

messy, messy day

Everyone's in a bad mood.

We drove to a place I haven't been to in nearly a year. It started out great, even excellent. Strong wind, but lots of bunny flushes. Good flying. From the way they flew, I saw the birds don't have the muscle tone they had in past seasons, but flying in the wind will improve that. We caught one cottontail pretty quickly, in fifteen or twenty minutes. But for a field that takes an hour and a half to drive to, you never want to go home so quickly, plus bunnies are less challenging for size. So we went to find another.

We found it in the wrong place. On one edge, this field has a small drainage pond with some machinery beside it, all fenced off, with some maintenance access gates. The bunny ran inside. One of the birds crashed onto it, and I heard the bunny squeal. The other bird had launched shortly after the first, and also landed there. Scuffles sounded. I needed to get in there and dole out the food so everyone would be happy. If I didn't referee, they could easily squabble over a cottontail, which is small enough that they would be in each other's faces while eating. The only thing a hawk likes having in its face is the thing it's eating.

The gate was locked. I ran to the other gate. Locked. When the hell did they start locking these goddamned gates? Oh, yeah, last year some gypsies parked their home on the other side, and started using the other fenced-off spot as their private toilet.

I returned to the first gate and saw a six-inch gap under the edge of the fence, partly hidden by brush. Kicking it aside, I cleared a space, and the gap looked bigger. It would be a squeeze, but there was no time to wonder, only to try. I yanked off my bulky hawking vest and slapped my back to the earth. I had to turn my head sideways. I breathed all the way out and the fence still scraped my chest. My T-shirt was no protection from the stickers. I slipped to the inside, jumped up, grabbed my vest (with the hawks' meat) and found both birds.

And no bunny. The birds were locked onto each other.

This has happened before, but never had I let so much time pass. The situation is: Hawk 1 catches the rabbit, Hawk 2 comes in to assist, Hawk 1 decides theft is a more likely intention than assistance, and decides to defend his catch and himself. In the flurry of feet and feathers grabbing at anything moving, the rabbit gets away. Then each bird blames the other for the loss.

I had, at that moment, only one glove, so I could only actually handle one bird at a time. Had I had my spare glove, I could have gotten one bird onto each. I got out both pieces of meat, and somehow cajoled Pepper to let one of his feet go. It was hard on both birds, but finally they released. Pepper was put to one side with a nice piece of meat, Salt on the glove with another, and me yanking out five pounds of stickers from clothes, skin and hair.

I should have packed it all up right then. I was hoping they would bounce back as quickly as they usually do when they have minor spats. But as I said, they'd spent too much time glaring at each other and not eating. Salt flew to the highest pole and wouldn't come down. Pepper hopped on top of the fence and wouldn't come. I had two good flushes completely ignored. Pepper eventually came, as did Salt, but they didn't want to stay on the fist or be near each other.

There was no point at all to continuing. After more cajoling, both birds came to the car. Both got a decent feed. Hours later when we were home, I doled out the remains of the tidbits and, with flares and glares, each bird tried to get at the other one's. I had to point fingers to get them to look at their own.

Trust. So hard to build, so easy to break.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

bated breath

I smell deal-making. If there is a god, please have Fitzgerald indict not just Rove and Libby but Little Rooster Cheney as well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

avatar courtesy Christine Y.

My dear friend Christy has made me a new avatar (right). Makes me look better than me, and the original size has incredible detail that unfortunately doesn't show in the avatar size. She's one hell of an artist in all the good ways, and none of the bad. The color depth is just about right, as good as those of a mutual friend of ours, whose ability to translate color into grey shades amaze both of us. Christy needs to draw a hawk so he (who only draws hawks) can be wowed, even though his saturnine nature will probably say, "Oh, not bad."

To balance this out, I'm going to rave. Christy likes me to sit for her because I can stay perfectly still for an hour, and because I don't insist on smiling for cameras. She does everything at least twice: take a photo, sketch, polish the sketch into a drawing, then compare and adjust. Wonderfully obsessive-compulsive. The way she explains it: exactly copying a photograph automatically loses a key element, liveliness. It flattens. In order to be "right," a drawing must keep its elan, capture something in the subject's spirit that characterizes him/her. This one makes me look like a BOFH, which I am by nature, if no longer by vocation.

I love it. Christy, you're the best.

old fields revisited

A new skim of my old fields is both promising and disappointing. The last time I was in this one field, I was standing atop a pile of concrete chunks watching a fox run away. I'd never seen a fox, but they're supposed to be red and skinny. This guy was gold-brown. And fat -- he had a distinct joggle waddle to his trot. Reason being, he was eating all my bunnies.

On Sunday, the concrete was still there, but the bunnies weren't. Maybe because it was 16:00, which is a little before the bunnies start coming out. Still, we managed to catch a jackrabbit. Both birds were in good condition, and Squeaky was on the fist at the time.

The jack rocketed off, heading southeast with the wind. Squeaky launched and bound to its rear, held it briefly, but the jack kicked him off. Meanwhile, Polya had taken off from the pole he was on and bound -- again to its butt, damn it -- thirty feet later.

We then had a thirty-yard rodeo ride with both birds bouncing. I could see Squeaks trying to get a foot on the rabbit's head. (He has better control over his feet than Polya, and once walked up a jack's back to get to the front end. Think of it like trying to climb from a rampaging elephant's rear to the head. One step: CLANG. Another step: CLANG. Another step: CLANG!)

Jack was still going at a good pace when I caught up with them all. Whew.

So I don't have bunnies, but I still have jacks. I drove by another field, which had been fenced off for construction. Looks like that has fallen through (hoorah) and I can get to it again. They flattened and scraped clean a hill and a lot of brush, and it was getting dusky, so it was hard to tell if there were any bunnies left. I did flush a jack, though. There's always jacks.

So that's good in its way, but bunnies are more fun. The birds do more interesting flights with bunnies, because if they're a distance from the hole, they zig more. Jacks run flat out. Being smaller, it's easier for bunnies to freeze up under a tiny bit of cover. The hawks sky up and hover, waiting for it to come out again, then do spectacular vertical stoops, like falcons in miniature.

So it's just waiting for Thursday to go hawking again...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

hoping it's not the end

We had just gotten started hawking the other week, in our usual field, when a shiny pickup drove up and asked us to leave. The driver was an engineer for the company that manages the property, and in the seat beside him was someone I guessed to be the owner.

A couple weeks before this, we were hawking in the northerly end of the field, and on our way out we were stopped by a guy with some missing teeth driving a converted bread truck. He asked if we'd noticed there was more junk than usual in the field. We rarely hawk the north side because of some resident redtails, and it usually had small trash piles lying around. But after some mental comparison, I had to agree. According to him, the cause is some homeless people trying to make some money being junk haulers. Instead of taking it to the city dump and paying the disposal fees, they drop the garbage here. He gave me a phone number to call and mention it.

In the falconers' book, complaint is usually an error. When owners hear about nuisances on their property, they put a fence around it with prominent "No Trespassing" signs at regular intervals. It took several days' consideration before I called and told them about the trash.

Complaint, as I said, is usually an error. I won't make that mistake again.

However, the engineer seemed reasonable. He could see we were flying hawks, not dropping off broken televisions or car shells and shooting them for the hecka. The owner kept his counsel. We asked if it was possible to get permission – we'll sign anything, we said. If we break a leg here, we take responsibility, we won't sue. It's our last nearby field – everything else is at least a half-hour away. He said he'd look into it, gave us his card, and even said we could finish hawking. We caught a jackrabbit, possibly our last one there.

I called twice, but he didn't call back. I'll keep trying, but I fear my days of easy, frequent hawking are over.

Friday, October 21, 2005

extreme vegetarian mind rot

In his article in September's Atlantic Monthly and October responses to letters, B. R. Myers reduces the process of hunting to its end result: the death of an animal. If that was all hunting was, people would be lining up in droves at slaughterhouses to have a whack and be done with it. Fishermen would walk out to the pier or the lake with a fish bat. I expect in Myers's mind, they're all laughing mockingly and toasting the death rattles with quart bottles of beer.

Myers has chosen to ignore all the deeper reasons for hunting, and his vegan blinkers will not let him imagine any. If he wants examples: first, just being outdoors, away from traffic jams, your next mortgage payment, and all your worries about the business side of life. Second and most importantly, self-challenge. That old buck that Myers gasps about knows all the tricks. He's evaded scores, perhaps even a hundred hunters in his lifetime. He is plainly smarter than them. Can a human step quietly enough, stay unseen and unscented long enough, follow for hours or even days and still keep track of where he is, until he has the opportunity for a clean shot that will fell the buck immediately? It takes endurance, experience, and strong nerves to do it. Myers has no idea that the sheer magnificence of the animal can overwhelm a hunter, staying his hand at the last moment. If hunting was only about killing, this would never happen.

And has Myers heard of catch-and-release, practiced by many fishermen and falconers? Catching the game and letting it go, alive, just for the pleasure of the hunting itself, destroys his theory about kill-obsessed hunters.

Myers does not actually need the reasons he asked for, because he will never be convinced of his wrongness. He believes his vegetarianism makes him special, better than those unprincipled, soulless, meat-eating, leather-wearing folk who have no sensitivity to the feelings of those little "people" in fur coats. Fortunately, he is not representative of most vegetarians in the same way that Eric Rudolph is not representative of right-wing Christians. But if vegetarianism is this hazardous to human intelligence, please pass me the steak.