Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Fully Self-Actualized Falconer

I used to be surprised at the diversity of people I met through working dogs, but no more.

I think I have taken every kind of person there is out into the field to dig on the dogs: desk-bound albino and farming redneck, black cops and African American e-commerce professionals, Hispanics and Asians, immigrants and natives, tourists and ex-pats, British working class and London posh, women and men, gay and straight, single and married, fat and thin, old and young, chatty and dour. I have even stooped to taking out a few Republicans!

If you can carry tools, love the land, and don't spread hate or talk too much about dog show politics, you are welcome.

That said, people who are eager to carry tools and dig on the dogs are rare, and so too are genuine sheep dog people, running dog people, and falconers, another primitive hunting-with-animals people.

Which is why I was so delighted to read this article in The Root entitled Black Woman in Falconry.
It all started in the overgrown fields of Inkster, Mich., in the 1970s. Summers of organized butterfly hunts with friends led to a lifelong passion for critters and a love of the great outdoors.

That turned into a career and hobbies that make me a little different from what many people think of as your typical black woman. My undergraduate degree is in fisheries and wildlife. I’m a former fisheries biologist, certified scuba diver, keeper and breeder of tropical fish, manufacturer of an organic plant food made from fish-hatchery wastes called Fish it and, oh yeah, a master falconer. Falconry—using trained birds of prey to hunt small game—is often called the sport of kings. But while few of its enthusiasts these days are royalty, my race and gender, nonetheless, make me stand out among them.

I blame my mother and father equally for my embrace of this unusual pastime. My father is a lifelong hunter, fly fisherman and taxidermist. I didn’t stand a chance. While most girls were playing with dolls, I was catching turtles on Ford’s Dam in Ypsilanti, Mich. My mother was a stay-at-home phenom, who made taking care of a home and raising two children (including one with severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) look easy.

Yup, I’m a product of the much-applauded nuclear family — we even had the dog. Mom never wasted a chance to teach me life lessons on being a free thinker and living a life by the standards I set. As a result, I’ve been cursed with individuality, leading to many side-eyes from blacks and whites alike and a more-than-occasional, “Where are you from?”

I was a 24-year-old fisheries biologist working for the state of Florida when falconry entered the picture. A biologist in the next office had an American kestrel, the smallest of the falcons. After asking a million questions, I learned she was a master falconer, meaning she climbed through the ranks in falconry from apprentice to general to master class. It was a conversation that changed my life.

People may stare when they see me lugging around a hawk, but that’s not something you see every day, right? At the ripe young age of 44, I now embrace my strangeness, and that’s what Morpheus represents in my life. He’s my 1-year-old Harris hawk, and he is an amazing flier and hunter. I never thought I could love another hawk as I did Nietzsche, but I was wrong. I finally embraced just being me, and now I’m loving life. Today, spending time doing what I love is a requirement; fitting in is not.


Started chasing butterflies? Yep. Me too. That and fishing. I still have my beetle and butterfly collections from 45 years ago... and the old bass pole my grandfather kept in his garage too.

Tiffany M. White, I bet we have common friends. If you are ever down Washington. D.C.-way and have time to spend a day knocking around on fields and farms digging on the dogs, consider it a standing invite! I suspect we're cut from the same bolt of cloth.

1 comment:

Karen Carroll said...

I also was the 'odd girl' who was the one who was wandering woods, fields and streams. All of the adults thought I was lost when out there. I did not. I love this article and love how she stood firm with her love of nature and falconry.