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Wool & Feathers

Shearing happened at dusk this year. My shearer, Mary Lake, was running a little behind schedule. But as someone with such a small flock at the moment, I’m grateful a shearer was traveling to my mountain at all. The way it works is smaller farms in an area that use the same shearer, they all share the same appointment day. I knew Mary would be coming to me after she finished up with the Icelandics at Caer Luna farm in White Creek. If we had to shear by headlamp, I didn’t care. I was excited to get this last chore of springtime done.

Shearing went well. We were both on the hill and I had prepared in advance with all the right extension cords and some plywood for her to work on. Gibson, even at 13, helped herd the sheep into their shed and within an hour all my fat ewes were naked and Mary and I were gabbing up a storm. She told me something I wanted to share with you guys:

Last fall she stopped by with her son to meet the hawk I was working with at the time. He was 6 or 7, and had become fascinated with birds of prey so I offered to have him come by and meet the bird I was training, ask questions, see how wild hawks are trapped, talk about the sport and how it works. It wasn’t a particularly long visit, but sweet, and before he left I gave him a copy of My Side of the Mountain, (a book any young person with a heart for falconry should read!). I made sure to slide in an old leather jess from birds in the past as a bookmark.

As training went on with my new hawk I would send Mary videos of the progress to show her boy. Trying to explain how we start with little steps and work up to flying free together. He loved seeing Seven progress. I loved sharing my excitement for my sport.

I ended up losing that bird on our second free flight. It was my fault. The early stages of training took too long and I felt the bird should be out an in the air sooner than later, so I rushed the most crucial part of the process, like a fool. I was so sad, and so ashamed. Not only because I ruined a whole hunting season for myself, but because I wanted to invite Mary and her son to come on a hunt with us that winter. I wanted to show him what it was like to work with the bird as a team.

Mary told me about how much he loved the book, how he was genuinely sad for me when I lost Seven. And how as a family they kept reading that series and how he lit up whenever anyone brought up birds. And I realized that hawk, that experience, if all it gave the people in my life was a real excitement about nature and animals, if that kid forever has the memory of sitting by my wood stove a few feet from a falconer and her hawk… that the entire season was worth it.

I hope this fall I do better, and this winter I get to take that kid hunting. I hope my ankle is better, and the firewood for the year is in, and I hope I am healthy and excited as he is about the possibility of flight again. We need our things. They keep us going.

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