Props: proper respect, recognition – Urban Dictionary

I’ve never given the opossum a second thought unless it happened to scurry across my path in the approaching dusk. Ghostly, ghastly, pallid and grotesque, there were so many more colorful things in life to give my attention to.

Until now.
If Gracie hadn’t caught one, I’d still think that way.
Of course, after seeing one close up… close enough to take a photograph, I was intrigued.
What an interesting looking creature.
My, what big teeth it has.
What does it eat?

Thank you Google – all my questions were answered and I have to share my new-found knowledge about and “props” for the heretofore unknown and unappreciated ‘possum.

Before I reveal what I’ve learned, I must first elaborate a little more on Gracie’s successful hunt. This was the other evening. The days are getting a little longer and my husband took her out to hunt just before dark.  She flew up from his glove, immediately spotted the unlucky opossum and dove for it. As soon as my H saw her go for it, his heart sank as he knew there could be a fight – either one could die. He ran over to her as she tried to subdue her prey and reached her in time to help her dispatch the creature.  It was twice her weight (2200 grams). The opossum punctured Gracie’s foot with its teeth, but she’s o.k.

The Opossum

Close-up of Opossum Teeth

Here’s where we put on our big girl pants and look beyond the grisly photos above. The opossum is beautifully and intelligently designed, the same as something pretty like a butterfly, baby deer or canary. Maybe they’re not cuddly or cute, but I’ve realized that they do deserve some air time.

Here’s what I found:

  • The opossum is the only marsupial in North America. It carries its babies in a pouch (now that’s kind of cute)
  • They have about 50 teeth; the most teeth of any N American mammal. (not so cute, but interesting!)
  • Adults are the size of an average house cat and weigh six to 15 lbs (the one Gracie caught was 5 pounds)
  • Because their ears and tails lack fur they often suffer frostbite on these body parts during cold winters. (this was kind of sad)
  • They have five toes on each foot. (hmmm)
  • They have a resistance to rabies but may still be carriers of the disease.
  • They eat mostly dead things, insects, frogs and like apples, clementines and persimmons (what variety!)
  • When playing possum, the lips are drawn back, teeth are bared, saliva foams around the mouth, and a foul-smelling fluid is secreted from the anal glands (Wikipedia) (now that’s cool and gross at the same time)
  • Sometimes, they actually look cute (take the baby photo above for example)

Hopefully, I’ve given the ‘possum a proper nod and that if you ever see one, you’ll look past their long snouts, sharp teeth, beady black eyes, oily skin, coarse fur, parasite-carrying, rabies resistant bodies and appreciate what’s good about them.

What do you think? Cute or gross?

You may have been one of those people who excelled at sports (and if you were, I really do admire you), however, I was never among that elite group of fit, perky, energetic individuals that could kick &@!$% in their chosen field. For me, it was a series of painful, embarrassing, awkward moments and Sysyphean tasks. Phys Ed was my nemesis. No happy-happy, no joy-joy. Which leads me to the point of this post.

I glimpsed P.E. joy this weekend.
Would you believe that a local college actually had falconry as a credit for P.E.?
How cool is that?!?

Last Sunday, the N. Georgia college offered a class presented by a falconer/raptor rehabilitator. A master falconer (who is also a coach at the college), organized the presentation and invited some other falconers to attend (my hubs included).  I tagged along and took a few photos.

As I sat in the classroom (reminiscing about the horrors of P.E.), I looked around at the students and wondered why they took this class.  Did they want to become falconers or did they hate P.E. as much as I did? Whatever the reason, not only did they escape the wrath of sweaty athletics, the door of a fascinating sport was opened to them. Only time will tell if any of them will walk through it and join the select group of those who have embraced the pursuit of falconry.

Here are a few photos taken from (at present) the only college level falconry course in the country.

Anatomy and Physiology

Raptor Anatomy and Physiology

Feathers and Flight

Discussing Feathers and Flight

The Cast

Presenting the Cast (An egg-shaped ball, consisting of feathers, bones, etc., which all hawks throw up after the nutritious part of their food has been digested.)

Raptor Rehabilitation

Raptor rehabilitaton tools - tube to feed or provide electrolytes for a raptor

Classroom filled with students and falconers

Classroom filled with students and falconers

Falconry class

An outside demonstration after the class

After the class for college students and demonstration for children was over, the students and falconers split up into different groups and went hunting.

Maddie captures a squirrel

Maddie, a Red-Tailed Hawk, captures a squirrel

I now have a new, albeit grudging respect for P.E.

What about you, did you like P.E.? (wait – before you say anything, take a moment to reminisce on the fetid stench of muggy locker rooms, heinous polyester shorts, bad hair days, being 13, cruel temperature extremes, archaic equipment and the fascist attitudes that often go with the teaching of team sports – sorry coaches. ) Ok, now you can answer.

It’s well-known in historical texts and artifacts that falconry has been practiced for over 3,000 years and possibly even longer as it pre-dates written records.  Places such as Arabia, China, Mongolia, Japan, Germany and Europe (to name a few), are rich in tales of falconry for sport and hunting.  Even during the time of Marco Polo, there were more than 10,000 falconers (at one time) and their associates participating in this ancient activity.

Here we are circa 2011.  Ages have passed, people have come and gone, the landscape of the world has changed and yet not only is falconry still present, it seems to be resurfacing among the tattered pages of history. Many of the customs have stayed intact and many I am sure have changed.

This autumn/winter, falconry will hit the fashion world. Hermès, the classic French luxury brand has added a new creative director to its team – Christophe Lemaire.  Lemaire (who seems to have had a penchant for sporty-chic and evidently proved that with last year’s Lacoste line) is boldly bringing the sport of falconry to the luxury label. Magazine ads will portray beautiful models dressed in creams, winter whites, tans, cashmere, wrap-jackets, leather, tassels, suede, tunics, boots, fringe and of course, a wild falcon on their forearm. They’re going “back to the basics,” and I guess if you’re really going to go back, falconry certainly has the clout.

The origins of Hermès as a saddle-maker and obvious connection to the equestrian world seems to go hand and hand with falconry. Other lines will most likely follow suit and  incorporate falconry into their designs – I guess we’ll see!  Anyway, I’m not usually this much into fashion, but I couldn’t resist this topic and the sublime thought of riding a medieval looking Friesian horse with a bird of prey on one arm and making a fashion statement at the same time!

Ok, imagine you on this…

Friesian Galloping (photo by LarissaAllen)

With this on your arm…

European Kestrel -a beautifully colored falcon. (photo by quaddie)

Wearing the garb of your choice – leather, suede…whatever suits you (you’ll have to use your imagination here and I’d love to hear your thoughts!)

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!