Jazz musician, Wynton Marsalis, had a great uncle who cut stone for a New Orleans cemetery. On a small stone, he engraved the words, “Don’t Be Discourage.” He ran out of room for the last D. However, Marsalis, who still has the stone, said he likes it that way, as it keeps it in the present tense.*

I smiled when I read this story today in the Wall Street Journal and began to wonder about this man who took the time to carve those letters on a stone so many years ago. What seems like a simple act, has in fact, been quite influential. Not only to Marsalis personally, but it’s now published in a newspaper that has an circulation of over 2 million people.

Why did he carve those words? There are other sequences of encouraging words to choose from: Smile, pass it on; dive into your dreams; let yourself shine, the power of now, etc. Although we may never know his reasons, I would venture to say, that his advice is worth more than almost any other three words put together (with or without the D).

Discouragement is a cruel master. We face it at every turn, whether it has taken hold in our own heart or we’ve had to watch it destroy those around us. There are those who even seek to sow the seeds of discouragement in others, knowing full well that once it grows, they will have relinquished their power and influence.

What’s to be done? I would do what the stone cutter did. I would carve those words in my heart, in the hearts of all of those whom I love and anyone else who has been a victim of anything that tries to defeat love, hope and life.

Besides my figurative carving skills, it comes down to one simple thing. Choice. No matter what has happened to us in the past, we have a choice right now to listen to those three words.

Be courageous. Live in the present tense.
*Wall Street Journal, Jazzy Wynton Marsalis (from an interview by Darrell Hartman)

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”. — Victor Frankl

The above quote was written by a prominent psychiatrist and neurologist who was arrested and sent to a Nazi concentration camp in 1942. Tragically, his parents and wife perished, but he, prisoner number 119104, lived. He wrote these words after his experiences in the camps and later went on to write, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” voted one of the most influential books in the U.S. by the Library of Congress in 1991.

Frankl also wrote, “it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’”

Over 50 years later, the “pursuit of happiness” is still at the core of almost every endeavor. Google “how to be happy,” and you will receive 2,390,000,000 results. Search Amazon for “happiness books” and you’ll find enough books to keep you busy for the rest of your life.

Ironically, the fervid quest for happiness begets less happiness, increased dissatisfaction and an inability to appreciate life.

In a recent study, The Journal of Positive Psychology asked nearly 400 Americans whether or not they thought their lives had meaning and/or if they were happy. The researchers, examining attitudes toward meaning, stress, finances and having children found that although happiness and leading a meaningful life may seem synonymous, they are in fact, quite different. The psychologists ultimately found that leading a happy life is associated mostly with being a “taker” and leading a meaningful life corresponded with being a “giver.

Perhaps we’ve had enough experience in life to know that this is true without having to read a study. Perhaps not. Either way, we all have to make a choice. What are we going to dedicate our lives to – the pursuit of happiness or leading a meaningful life?

In my experience, those who live to give, to help others, to add meaning, to bring joy, to make what they touch better, regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in and without concern to “find” happiness, are those who lead happy, fulfilling, meaningful lives.

Bellatrix Red-tail Hawk We picked up a beautiful passage hawk 12 days ago. A falconer and his wife who live south of us had trapped her and put out an alert in the falconry community to see if anyone was looking for a Red-tailed Hawk. My husband was! He had been trapping all month (with help from my brother and I) and had a few close calls, but none would stay on the trap. So, needless to say, we were all very excited, relieved and thankful to hear that she was trapped and available as it was getting late in the season.

To capture a bit of history and chronicle the manning of a hawk, I’ll be keeping track of the daily progress that my husband makes with Bellatrix (Bell).

Day 1: Prepare room (drop cloths on the floor, plastic on the walls, dark curtains, comfy chair and table), giant hood (a crate for transporting hawks). We picked up the hawk, drove  home and he sat with her on his arm in the dark for 3 hours. He tried to feed her, but knew that she would not be comfortable enough to accept food yet.

Day 2-10: Wash, rinse, repeat – morning, afternoon and night. During this period, the hawk is not only reluctant to accept food, but will not bend down to eat it as they are vulnerable and unsure if you are trustworthy. Also, the prey is not alive, which could be different than what they’re used to. My H offered food from a stick close to her beak until she accepted it. It took a few days, but she finally ate the mice if it was placed right next to her beak.

Day 11: Today was the day – we had a breakthrough! This morning, Bell finally leaned over to eat a tiny rodent from my husband’s glove. This was a huge step in her progress and the result of 10 days of extreme patience to earn her trust.

Black kite

The hawk is a symbol of vision, creativity, wisdom, observation, power and truth. The hawk soars freely above and as Warren beautifully described, “…there is hope for those of us who turn to the flight of the hawk and the truth of the light.”

Evening Hawk

by Robert Penn Warren

From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through
Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds,
Out of the peak’s black angularity of shadow, riding
The last tumultuous avalanche of
Light above pines and the guttural gorge,
The hawk comes.

His wing
Scythes down another day, his motion
Is that of the honed steel-edge, we hear
The crashless fall of stalks of Time.

The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.

Look! Look! he is climbing the last light
Who knows neither Time nor error, and under
Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings
Into shadow.

Long now,
The last thrush is still, the last bat
Now cruises in his sharp hieroglyphics. His wisdom
Is ancient, too, and immense. The star
Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain.

If there were no wind we might, we think, hear
The earth grind on its axis, or history
Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.
even though the grain is heavy with our error–we seem to live in shadow and our
history guiltily drips in the basement – there is hope for those of us who turn to the flight of the hawk and the truth of the light.

Beautiful colors and angles

My husband recently decided to let Gracie, his first red-tailed hawk, fly free. Only 20% of most hawks in the wild make it to maturity (due to many reasons including disease and poisoning from eating tainted rodents). A hawk that has an opportunity to be with a falconer has a greater chance of surviving when it is released, as it will be stronger and healthier than if it were in the wild.  I had a chance to take a few photos before he released her:

Gracie about to eat her last easy meal.

Gracie after eating that mouse.

She has such beautiful color and angles.

Argos waiting patiently.

Gracie (her beautiful red tail) and Theo

A Profile of Gracie

Just about to be released.

Gracie sits in the tree, unsure of her new found freedom.

My husband, saying a final farewell to Gracie.

Gracie finally flies away after about 15 minutes. Can you find her flying in the trees?

My husband has a new hawk now, a male, whose name is Oz. Stay tuned for photos and news about this new addition to our family!

European Kestrel (a small falcon). Photo by quaddie

The Kestrel (photo by deoroller)

I came across this beautiful poem about the Kestrel, which is a small falcon only a little bigger than a Robin. It’s distinctly colorful and when it hunts, it “hovers” in the currents of the wind.

It was written by Gerard Hopkins and published in 1918. He admires this remarkable bird of prey alluding that it controls the wind as a man might control a horse. The kestrel then suddenly swoops downwards and “rebuffs the big wind”.

The Windhover

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin,
dapple-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! Then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend; the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it; sheer plod makes plow down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Now that you’ve felt his immense delight for this bird’s prowess and design, watch this video of the kestrel floating on the currents of the wind with its eye to the ground for a tasty morsel.

I loved how Hopkin’s described the Kestrel as “daylight’s dauphin, dapple-drawn Falcon.” You can see in this video the beautiful dapple coloring in its wings. The Kestrel is also known as the “Windhover” as it requires a slight headwind in order to hover.

Enjoying a beautiful moment on a cool yet sunny spring day with my husband, two dogs and Gracie. I took a bunch of photos and here are the best of the bunch.

Pretty Girl

Pretty Girl

Gracie has such an intense stare with those golden eyes.

Beautiful Profile

I thought this shot had interesting angles and colors.

More intensity from a few steps back!

I'm continually in awe of her - just stunning!

This was a defensive stance to make herself look larger as our Golden Retriever approached.

A stately pose!

The sky is so blue here. I love the shadow under her wings and sun on her breast feathers

There's a turkey vulture (top right) that kept circling above us

Again - pooch coming a little too close!

Do you ever feel like you're being watched?

Yikes! It's more than a feeling!

Ok, think exit strategy...that tree looks good up there.

The film on her eyes is the nictitating membrane which protects their eyes when hunting, flying at fast speeds or feeding their chicks, keeping their most precious asset clean.

Can you feel any mice or squirrels in there? Falconers regularly check the keel feeling the musculature and level of fat on the bird.

On a recent hunting trip in South Georgia, these falconers and their hawks hunted together for squirrels, a common prey for the Red-tailed Hawk. The photos illustrate three different hawks (Gracie, an immature female, Scout, an immature male and Heath). If you look closely at the photos, you will be able to tell a difference in the appearance  – their size and coloring (you also might see a squirrel, racoon and armadillo!).

Click on the “expand” button on the bottom right corner to view larger images, then sit back, watch, relax and imagine  you were there…

Many thanks go out to Bart, the photographer who braved the forests and took these photos.

 South Georgia Hunting Trip
I couldn’t resist adding this one by itself – my Husband (above) running after Gracie who has a squirrel in her talons…