Falconer on the Edge

Rachel Dickinson’s introduction to the world of falconry was rather abrupt. Her husband, Tim Gallagher, brought home a kestrel one day, a young bird that had been brought in to the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell. That one bird rekindled an old passion for Tim, and thrust Rachel into a world completely foreign to her.

In order to better understand this new world, Dickinson set out to try to gain an understanding of the world of falconry by following one of the sport’s most intense and legendary figures – Steve Chindgren. Her book, “Falconer on the Edge: A Man, His Birds, and the Vanishing Landscape” is the result of that journey. The book is a captivating profile of a very complex individual who has sacrificed a great deal for the birds and the sport that he loves, and a fascinating look at hunting with falcons.

Jomo bobs his head up and down several times as he looks around. This is how a falcon triangulates.

When he's done looking around, Jomo rouses. He pushes off Steve's gloved fist as his wings open and he takes off. This takes all of thirty seconds.

As Steve watches Jomo work his way up to a good pitch with slow and deliberate wing beats, he can't help but think that he's also slowing down. At age fifty-six, he's in remarkably good shape and can outrun men half his age - a necessary skill if someone's going to hunt with birds and dogs in wide-open landscapes.

Jomo pumps his pointed wings faster and faster to climb higher into the ever brightening sky. Steve moves forward, keeping an eye on the dog and an eye on the bird. Actually, he has to turn his head at a funny angle to look for the bird because he is blind in one eye. The dog, the bird, the brightening sky - it's all happening at once, and Steve is like the puppet master pulling the strings. Steve knows those grouse are hunkered down under the sagebrush and aren't going to unless they're about to get stepped on.

Tucker starts to creep forward again and then freezes, tail straight out, whole body quivering. "Whoa, Tucker, whoa boy. Whoa, Tucker. Whoa." The dog takes tiny steps forward, lining up on the birds, like a ballerina on pointe thinking about losing her balance. Steve, with his hand held out toward the dog as if to say don't even think about it, cocks his head to look at Jomo, who's waiting on (that is, flying in tight circles) about a thousand feet over his head. It all has to align like a high school geometry equation. Then, as Jomo approaches Steve in his circle formation, Steve runs toward Tucker, whopping and hollering and five grouse decide that the crazy man on the ground might be more dangerous than the deadly bird overheard.
     -- from Falconer on the Edge

Guests: 
Rachel Dickinson