Thursday, July 02, 2015

H Is for Hawk, and H is for Hedge

Remember when we were told that, along with a paperless office, the machine age would deliver us a flying car and endless amounts of leisure time?

Right.  Not so much.

And so, after buying a paper copy of H is for Hawkand carrying it around in my bag for six weeks, I made a leap and bought an audio copy on Audible as part of a promotion of that service.

The fact that it was going to be read by the author was an attraction.

An earlier Audible book on artificial intelligence had been read by a voice that sounded a bit like the computer "Hal" from 2001, A Space Odyssey.

Would this be that voice too?

I suspected not.

I am happy to report Helen MacDonald has a delightful voice, and her cadence is perfect.

She is wonderful writer, but she may be even better listened to than read. This is writing as poetry.

I had read T.H. White's The Goshawk before. I even own a first edition (there is no other) of Gone to Ground, his sporting decameron tale, but I had no idea White was gay or a sadist.

All I could tell from reading The Goshawk was that he didn't know his ass from his elbow when it came to training any animal, much less a hawk.

As I listened to Helen MacDonald's recounting of her story, her father's story, and T.H. White's, I was reminded of how much terrier work is like hawking

The frame is the same; one species harnessed by another to hunt a third.

For both, the danger of losing a much-loved animal is always there, as is the need to focus unblinking attention on the thing that is loved.

Fly a hawk, or run a working terrier in the field, and you will eventually have one disappear on you.

It happens to everyone. Most of the time things get sorted quickly enough.  But not always. 

When a hawk or a terrier slips away unseen, the hollow inside you starts as small as a peanut.  In 15 minutes it is as big as a ping pong ball. In half an hour it's as big as a melon. In an hour it is pressing hard against your lungs.

The brain tries to reign things in, but the hollow inside you has now grow, graduated, and is an independent thinker.

You strain for a sound.  Was that a goose? A murder of crows? Perhaps a barking dog?

You are hunting as if a life depends on it.  You move upwind and down, scanning for movement. You curse passing airplanes and the rumble of distant cars.  Then you hear a small muffled sound, or see a flash of fur or feather, and your world swings back, centered and in control.

There it is. All is not lost.

I can fix this.

The illusion of control is restored.

Why do we do this?  

Why do we hunt with hawk or terrier when the potential for devastating loss is always there?

I cannot speak for others. I can barely articulate an answer for myself. 

The way I hunt allows me to enter forest and field with a new set of glasses.  I see more and I begin to understand the world better because I am thinking with a primitive and feral brain that is not my own.

The way I hunt allows me to understand the natural world in a more intimate way -- and with it my own place in a complicated matrix.

In this world there is no past or future, there is only NOW. What is flying NOW? What can be scented NOW? What is the weather NOW?

I may be hunting a small farm on the edge of the suburbs, but I can see the wild, feel the wilder, and almost taste the wilderness.

And what I am doing is not without risk.

I am running along the edge of the abyss and I am aware of it. Yes, the dog or the hawk is wearing an electronic locator, but it is far from magic. Very bad things can happen out here. There is no question about that.

What is going on here is irrational, but it is also basic and elemental.

When the dogs and I go hunting, the code explodes from where it has been coiled up like a watch spring inside our respective bits of DNA.

It is an ancient code written in blood and sweat, and urine and dirt.

This code connects all things, including the dogs and I and the natural world around us.

And it is a timeless code. There is no past or future in the hedge; there is only NOW, now, now.

Perhaps this is part of the attraction. 

Perhaps this is why Helen MacDonald took to training a Goshawk as she struggled to remain upright following the death of her father.

Perhaps this is why T.H, White took to training a Goshawk when he came to his own fork in the road.

I do not know.  

I do not claim to understand it.

All I know is that a kind of enlightenment occurs for dog, hawk, and human alike. When things go well, we become one together, and with the land, and with the seconds and minutes that we spend together.

It is a perfect thing.  It is what we chase in the hedge.


Anonymous said...

It might sound funny, but I feel that way about riding a horse. As I get older I feel less in control, but more in touch with the wonder of riding at all. I've also noticed that the world links different from the back of a horse, and that wild animals seem less afraid of my approach.

geonni banner said...

Nice. Next you'll be surfing. Life is most precious when you know how fragile it is. And how beautiful.

P3D said...

An excellent post, if only more people could experience the simple joy of walking hedgerows and ditches with a couple of terriers and seeing the world in a different light.

jeffrey thurston said...

I spend time with my dogs for a slight taste of what you speak- but I get that full amazing transcendent feeling when I go run 1,000 feet uphill in the hills behind Oakland. It's really tough, I feel totally high...

Daniel Gauss said...

Well said.. and goes for coursing sighthounds as well. Obviously.
I loved that book, and reading The Goshawk first really doubled the pleasure. It's good to own a book store..

Mary Pang said...

I loved this book, and your post.

plenkj said...

Every real hunter wants to feel part of nature, not spectator but player in the game of life, animal among animals. What we look for is in the hunt not in the kill, never in a trophy. Hunting with animals makes this feeling of being one with the wilderness much more intense. I have lost my so far best hound last fall. I hunt fox and boar in Austria with hounds and a teckel. The joy of hearing them work a track in full cry, bay up a boar or go to ground( the teckel) is allways coupled with the anxiety of coming home without one of them. When you uncouple and see them vanish in the forest or into a den control about what will happen literally slipps from your hands. All these feeling came up forcefully when i read this post. I will try to get the book about hawking.Thank You and best regards, Johann Plenk