Falcons and Foxes in the U.K.

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9781401092450: Falcons and Foxes in the U.K.
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A "once-in-a-lifetime" experience chronicled with humor and passion, this memoir details the life-altering 1995 summer during which a nature-lover becomes a hunter. One of those rare quantities, a woman falconer, Chichester discovered that her outlook on the world, nature, and herself changed radically during her pursuit of the ancient art in a foreign country. Training captive-bred, hybrid falcons; riding horseback to the flight of a falcon in pursuit of a crow, belting across the fells and pastures of the United Kingdom; the author deals with fears, preconceptions, and a very steep learning curve, after which she is changed forever.

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From the Author:

The book includes a glossary of falconry terms that will be helpful for the reader unaccustomed to the sport. I tried to convey the process in terms not too technical, so that people new to outdoors activities, especially women, would find my story accessible; so that my experiences might inspire more women and girls to reach into their own habitats to protect them, get their hands into their own habitats up to their elbows, and to enjoy learning new things about the environment we share with so many other species.

From the Inside Flap:

I was in about the sixth grade -- around 12 years old -- when we managed to get ourselves out of suburbia into the true countryside. At the time, the move was to an area/lifestyle that I refer to as "horse-rural," which is a different kettle of fish from what I have, very much later in my life, discovered to be agricultural-rural, that environment in which young males skip school on the first day of rifle-hunting season each year in November, to go into the woods and shoot their first deer of the season.

In horse-rural, we had enough acreage on the outskirts of town to have some horses, and we owned a trailer and a four-wheel-drive vehicle for getting around the mostly posh pastures of the horse country of middle Virginia. This was in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, before 4WD was the standard it is today. To my way of thinking, "hunting" was what we did on the rare occasions in the fall and winter when we trailered our horses to an estate and joined as guests in a fox hunt. This ritualized horseback romp through the chill countryside was exciting, communal, raucous, dangerous, and thrilling. Other than the adrenaline and cold weather aspects, my experience of hunting was quite different from the solitary vigil in a duck or deer blind; or the wander through the woods in search of turkey or bear -- the kind of hunting with which traditional sport hunters are most familiar.

I call this chronicle the "making of a hunter." The transformation of my outlook and psyche from that of a rather "privileged" and bambi-esque perspective (all the while I was "riding to the hounds," I prayed ernestly to Mother Nature to help the fox elude the hounds so that I would not hve to see any carnage) to a more traditional hunting mind-set is a phase-shift that still sometimes surprises me. And the conflicts between my gut and my head (To what degree is cockfighting different from using beagles to hunt rabbits? Why should leg-hold traps be any worse or better than netting fish? Is the hawk that catches a squirrel the same as a domestic cat that catches a finch? How can/should we "measure" animal suffering?) -- these questions and more continue to force in me a thorough contemplation of the placement of mankind into the natural setting of the earth. Indeed, how is hunting wild game using a trained raptor (the "definition" of falconry) any worse or better than hunting wild game using a 20-gauge shotgun? Is the human animal a predator or a protector?

As a hunter and falconer, I have developed a deep appreciation of the natural systems upon which life as we know it depends. I see the crucial contest between predator and prey nearly daily -- a privilege, I’ve come to realize, that is one to which too few of us humans are privy. Our society has experienced (and continues to experience) a separation from nature that is neither good for the wild nor good for us, I feel. After much thought and too little experience of these enormous questions, I’ve come to realize that human kind is but one additional animal in an ecosystem we share with many other organisms. Our role is perhaps to find ways to co-habit -- not necessarily to protect at all costs -- with our fellow animals, taking the time to preserve to our greatest ability not only ecosystems upon which they are dependent, but also those on which we are dependent. After all, we live in this habitat, too, and have needs just like our animal brethren, among those needs is that for protein to eat. What could possibly be more healthful and "free-range" than hunted game?

I was a newly-licensed falconer at the time described by this memoir. Like a lump of wet clay or a blank page of paper, I was open to being molded and formed and created by the philosophies and attitudes of those with whom I came into contact. I’ve had several years since that time to think about what I learned there, how the experience has formed my thinking, and to find ways to share the process with others like you. Naturally, the best part about writing this down for me has been in the re-living of the experience itself, which would be a rather drab tale for you, the reader, I’m afraid. So I hope that there is enough inside the actual chronicle and later reflections on this process of "making a hunter" for you to glean some ideas you find interesting. At the least, my wish is that you embark on a series of thought processes similar to my own, so that you can more critically evaluate much of what our current popular culture feeds us over the airwaves, satellite connections, and media blitzes associated with "corporate America" -- a world quite different from what I find walking with the bird through our back woodlot.

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