November 16, 2009

A Tenuous Bond with a Foreign Soul

Early in her falconry memoir Lift, Rebecca O'Connor writes, "Predator or prey, you choose."

As she later elaborates, "Predator worship is an odd thing, but perhaps not so odd for a woman. I am aware that I am more prey than predator."

That dialectic--woman as prey and predator--spirals through Lift, a book that is intensely erotic in the original sense, being about passion, desire, and union with the Beloved, even when the beloved is a bird.

Anyone who has worked with animals (and O'Connor is an experienced bird trainer, author of A Parrot for Life: Raising and Training the Perfect Parrot Companion, not to mention an "Avalon Career Romance" called Falcon's Return) know how intimate the relationship can be. He loves me, he loves me not.

So it's no surprise that her relationship with her first peregrine falcon, Anakin, partakes of First Love, right down to the candlelight dinner of the first duck that the peregrine has brought down. At that point in her life, she admits, her relationship with Anakin  "is the only honest relationship." When frustrated, she catches herself "berating the bird like a lover."

Yet with falconry, there is a bond, but no possession. Battles of wills, development of trust, relationship-building--all of that--but still a falcon does not need the falconer. As O'Connor tries to tell herself when Anakin has disappeared while hunting, "The falcon and I will both be fine on our own."

(You have said that about human lovers, right?)

Thus the book's narrative twists like a mallard dodging a falcon three feet above the water, human relationships intertwined with bird relationships, hunting trips cut by bitter memories and sweet ones.

A lot of the back story of Lift involves things that were done--or threatened--to the author in her younger days, which add poignancy to her struggle to become--in some areas--the predator, confronted with the mysteries of death and blood.

 "Maybe I was wrong. Given the choice I would be the predator. Maybe I'm a hunter after all."

Whether you have felt that bond with an animal or not, by reading Lift, you might learn, in the author's words, "a way of thinking, a means of experiencing life." Not just falconers, but all true hunters, share O'Connor's experience of having touched "nature's senseless violence, clung her stray miracles [and had them] alter our beliefs."

(Rebecca O'Connor blogs at Operation Delta Duck.)

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