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.

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.

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.

The Blogging Room

Once again, the Outdoor Blogger Network has put forth a writer’s prompt: Lets see where the Outdoor blog ‘work’ gets done. I love a challenge, especially an easy one (does that still qualify as a challenge?).  Most of the time, when I ponder about which word to use and if I have to look it up in the dictionary, I am sitting in my living room late in the evening with my husband, lab and golden retriever.  As I was blogging today (and reading the OBN post about where we write when we blog), I looked down and the perfect photo op appeared to include with this post.

Thanks pups!

Last Saturday, January 15th, 2011

3:50 a.m. – the alarm squawked, or was that my husband? He had been up since 2:30 in anticipation of a state annual falconry “Field Meet”  where falconers convene to hunt, share stories, styles, tips and tricks. Included is a banquet (I imagined roast squirrel with pine nuts, a mouse cheese plate, possum stew and rabbit jerky), but it was actually much less sensational… steak, shrimp, and salmon (rabies-free!).

4:45 a.m. – My H, brother and cousin and hawks departed (or so I later found out, as my own self wasn’t up yet)

7:30 a.m. – they arrived at the meet, just in time for a photo shoot and then off to prepare for their first hunt.  Gracie was dressed in her jesses and bells, ready to roll. A woman had graciously offered her property (almost 300 acres) for the falconers to fly their birds.  My H, brother and a falconer family trio headed to the woods and my husband volunteered to fly Gracie first as she seemed to be at a good flight weight.

She was anxious to fly and when released into the trees initially followed well. Eying a squirrel, she chased it into a nest and jumped on it, but the little creature was stubborn and refused to come out (poor sport!). The hunters waited a few minutes to see if the squirrel would budge, but to no avail. It evidently knew what its fate could be (banquet fare?). They decided to walk on to another area, but unfortunately, Gracie’s mood changed and she didn’t follow.

Before I continue with what happened after this point, I should note that my H asked if I’d write this story in the hopes that it may help another falconer. He was concerned that he may not retrieve Gracie, but luckily with team work, perseverance and advice from a master falconer, this story has a happy ending.

10:00 a.m. – He called Gracie, but she flew further away in an ever expanding circle.  Pulling out the lure, which should be a falconer’s most reliable recall (for the women reading this, think new Prada bag), he tried to attract her, but she was indifferent. This wasn’t a good sign and he knew he was in for some trouble (think lost Prada bag).

She continued to “bump” around (flying from one spot to another) and crossed a major road to a neighboring property. They were hesitant to enter someone else’s land (as you should always have permission before doing this), but the neighbor was notified and they jumped the fence. Losing sight of her at this point would almost eliminate the possibility of her retrieval. My brother tried to nudge her back towards them and they worked at this for over an hour.  She was now out of sight, but still within earshot. The situation was getting worse and my H decided to contact his sponsor who connected him with a master falconer who was also on the hunt close by.

tfw-free-flight001

"Bumping" from tree to tree

He offered a few tips for retrieving a reluctant hawk (here is my translation):

  1. Chick-on-a-rope: Hang chick (deceased baby chicken – let’s be clear now) on a rope from tree and dangle it about 2 feet off ground in her sight
  2. The Roman: Drag chick across the ground on a rope behind you (looks better if you’re on a horse)
  3. Military-Style: Establish a search perimeter, one person walks in the dirction of the hawk while the others circle around (remember the “The Fugitive”) and stalks the hawk
  4. Ole’ Faithful: Try the lure again

I guess begging wasn’t an option.

12:00 – Good News! The master falconer found Gracie by the road and alerted my husband.  My H ran to her location and followed her until she led him to the original tree where the squirrel had hidden. He blew his whistle – no response.  He tried “Ole-Faithful” and whipped the lure around with a jolly Ho Ho Ho.  Bingo.  Baby got his bird back.

P.S. When my husband returned home, he found this helpful quote in a recent falconry newsletter: “I have heard many stories of apprentice’s birds being lost.  I can say with confidence that if a good foundation is laid and the bird is at initial flight weight, it would be hard to lose her under even the most difficult of circumstances.  There is a litany of traditional excuses as to why a bird is acting up in the field or why she cannot be flown; “she’s not used to this many people”, “she doesn’t like your hat”, “thermal conditions are bad”, “it’s too windy”, and so on down the list.  But the truth is, she is not at the right weight.  A bird maintained and if flown at the right weight can be flown at any time of day, in any weather conditions and over any size crowd of strangers without the need for excuses.”  – excerpted from an article on weight management by Gary Brewer, author of Buteo and Bushytails.

P.S. I realize this was a longer post than usual and if you’re tired of reading (as I was after I re-read this), get a cup of coffee, clear your mind and look at some hawk photos or alternatively watch hawk tv below:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PS2YozkWbTM

nametag

The Outdoor Blogger Network has put forth a challenge via their “Writer’s Prompt” to share with the blogosphere why we have so named our blogs.

Although the name of this blog may seem self explanatory, I thought I’d still share its humble origins.

When I learned of my husband’s interest in falconry, I thought it would be enlightening and helpful to other falconers if we created a blog about his exploits and adventures in this amazing sport.  As the moment grew closer to trapping his first bird, we realized that he was going to have to invest a significant amount of time and effort”manning” and training a new hawk, leaving him little time for laptop musings.  We then thought maybe he could use a blog to keep track of his progress (i.e. weight, amount fed, milestones reached, etc.) and many falconers use a blog for this purpose.  But then, the “day before” arrived, my H was ready for his first adventure and everything changed…

Twas the night before trapping, and all through the house
All of rodents were stirring:  4 gerbils and one sad mouse
The alarm was set, gauntlets ready and lunch made
Tomorrow was the day when the trap would be laid

I had so much fun listening (and visualizing his stories in my mind), that we made a last minute change and at the midnight hour, I became nominated as the official blogger for our family.

Voila, The Falconer’s Wife was born.