Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'Lift' - why you need to read this book

Whenever Boyfriend and I throw parties, we always have an odd mix of guests from the various worlds we inhabit: There are reporters and editors, foodies, academics, political people and hunters.

I tend to introduce folks to one another by identifying which group (or groups) they come from, and I can tell you no guest turns more heads than Rebecca O'Connor. "She hunts ducks with falcons," I tell people. Once I've said that, it doesn't matter which group they belong to; they all want to hear what Rebecca has to say.

And who wouldn't be fascinated by a woman who can somehow bend a raptor's will, persuading the epitome of free spirit to become a willing hunting partner?

In the abstract, it sounds incredibly romantic. But Rebecca's new memoir, Lift roots falconry in vivid reality.

I am, of course, a sucker for honesty, and Rebecca hooked me with the opening lines:

I should kill the duck. I know how to do it. A master falconer showed me with a deft hand. He split the skin where the leg meets the body and with his finger hooked, jammed it inside and found the heart. It dislodged with no sound and laid beating in his palm He offered it with an open hand to my falcon who took it with dainty bites while the duck stilled.

Wow. Hardcore.

But that's the world we inhabit, isn't it? Whether we kill animals with the aid of falcons or guns, or simply delegate our killing to some third party, as most of the meat-eaters in this nation do, this is the reality of our position in the food chain. Death is never pretty.

(There is, by the way, a legitimate reason for this gruesome method some falconers use to finish off the bird. If you'd like to read the rest of the prologue and get a taste for Rebecca's writing, click here and scroll down to the prologue link. Be patient - it takes a while to load, even with a high-speed connection.)

This brand of honesty fills the pages of "Lift," where Rebecca's story of a childhood marred by abandonment - and punctuated by a yearning for approval - is intertwined with the saga of training and hunting with Anakin, her first peregrine falcon. On her own terms, no one else's.

"Lift" doesn't necessarily make me want to take up falconry. A gun is way more effective at filling the freezer, and my gun isn't prone to flying away and forcing me to track it down. (I texted Rebecca while I was in the middle of the book and she asked, "How many times has Anakin flown away so far?")

But that's not the point. This book gave me riveting insight into a tiny but fascinating subset of hunting culture, and it makes me more determined to join Rebecca on a hunt this season so I can personally witness the ancient dance between falcon and falconer.

For any hunter who's interested in looking beyond the confines of his or her world, reading this book is a no-brainer. Buy it. You won't regret it.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Hil said...

Ripping the heart out while it's beating? Holy crap.

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

Holy crap indeed. It's not fair to pull that out of context, Holly. LOL

Yes, please, read the book. But you can read the whole prologue this is taken from on Red Hen Press's site. It's a pain to get there, but pull up Rebecca O'Connor under authors and scroll down to "Selections" at the bottom of my author page.

Holly Heyser said...

Hil, is it any worse than me grabbing a duck by the head and "helicoptering" it to finish it off? Or shooting a deer with an arrow and waiting hours, if not overnight, to go get it because you don't want to "push" it? Both of these are totally accepted practices, driven by sound logic, and if you read Rebecca's book, you'll find out why some falconers do this.

This is why I think it's important to expose ourselves to different viewpoints and cultures - it's so easy to get comfortable with what we do and view alternatives as horrifying, when what they really are is just different.

Rebecca, thanks for pointing to the Red Hen site - I'll add the link to the post. Don't hate me for being provocative!

Hil said...

Don't get me wrong, I have no moral objection to ripping the heart out. I just think it's incredibly hard-core and I admire anyone with the stones to do that.

Blessed said...

Oh Holly... I really didn't need to add another thing to my "to do" list :)... ok off to see if my neighborhood bookstore will order it for me!

hodgeman said...

Holly, consider it done. On my Christmas book list as we speak.

I'm fascinated by falconry but few Alaskans practice it. I've read a couple of very interesting essays but never something of a full(er) length book on the subject.

And right- Holy Crap! what other way to grab the reader's attention than that passaage!

Jon Roth said...

For blog followers - Rebecca also has a wonderful blog about her adventures in falconry as well. Enjoy!

Sarah said...

After talking with Rebecca about it and hearing her interview on NPR's Insight, then reading this Holly, I'm definitely going to get the book. She's also having a reading in Davis at the Avid Reader this Friday at 7:30 if anyone's interested.

Holly Heyser said...


I missed that radio interview, unfortunately.

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

It's not too late to listen...


Holly Heyser said...

I knew I could count on you for that - thanks!

SimplyOutdoors said...

This definitely sounds like a real, honest, and incredibly intriguing book. I'll have to check it out.

native said...

Falconry, A secret passion of mine for years!
My hats off to you Rebecca and to Holly for featuring this wonderfully intriguing, antediluvian sport.