Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Finding Inspiration

Over winter break I took a condensed class entitled “History of Jazz”. Primarily, it was to fulfill a lacking course requirement, but I’ve also always been peripherally interested in (and very ignorant of) the subject matter. While researching for a paper on Kind of Blue, I found an NPR podcast on the famous Miles Davis album. The podcast opened with a jazz musician describing his reaction to the music, when he first heard it as a budding artist in 1959,

"My ears popped when my roommate played it for me. I was 17 years old, and it made me want to quit college right then.”

He wasn’t alone, Kind of Blue remains the best selling jazz record of all time. But that kind of feeling, immediately I thought – I know that.

I was on a windswept, snow-pocketed steep hillside (perhaps ‘mountainside’ would be more appropriate) in Glenshee, at the head of the highlands a few hours drive north of Edinburgh. Over a dozen falconers were scattered down the hill, several with golden eagles hovering near the top waiting for a slip. Two brothers, whom I had just met, had taken me to this field meet. Although each had an accomplished eagle with an impressive head count, I was nervous for them. I didn’t know what to expect. At that time, I had hardly seen any eagles flown in the UK. The landscape seemed too dramatic, the distances too far. I fretted over whether we’d be able to orchestrate this.

Soon the call went up – a hare was on the move below. It was Neil’s slip. Unfortunately the news didn’t travel well up the line. Due to the unevenness of the mountain, the hare was hidden from the sight of those trudging above at the hilltop. By the time the hood was off and the eagle in the air – the hare had vanished. But this eagle had gained his wings waiting-on. He soon swept over the mountain and found lift. Pumping into the wind, with tail adjusting wildly, his figure dwindled as he sailed out of sight over a neighboring mountain. I held my breath. I had been told to expect this. Just like a wide-ranging falcon, the eagle was kicking out to gain height and would be back. The minutes ticked by. I fidgeted. And then, just like that, there he was. The small silhouette was working his way back downwind towards our crowd, roughly 700 or 800 feet up and above the mountain.

Suddenly another hare appeared, skipping down the adjacent hill, into the valley and out in front of the line. The eagle was still many hundred yards behind us - but instantly became compact and angled - pumping hard several times and leaving the rest to momentum. He skimmed down the vast mountainside, wings half-folded and wind propelling him further. Despite the distant start, all at once I heard the wind screaming through his feathers as he rushed past me in the shallow stoop. At the end of the flight (the total ground covered I daren't guess) the eagle overtook the sprinting blue. There were no final jinks, the golden simply swept in from the side and cut the hare off it's uphill path, the flight one long unbroken, amazingly swift stoop.

That was my moment. I couldn't sleep that night. I couldn't sleep for days afterward. I was 19 years old and I wanted to quit college right then.


Isaac said...

Awesome post. Thanks!

Doug said...

Well Done. Great imagery!

Harris' Hawk Blog

Lauren said...

Cheers, guys!

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...


Rachel Dickinson said...

Great site, great posts.

Andrew Campbell said...

Lauren: you're so very lucky to have these experiences. While I haven't had the depth of experience with eagles you have (and probably never will), I am lucky to have been to some of the same places... Olgii, Glenshee, Arran. (The Scotland Outdoors program actually had part of their weekly podcast dedicated to eagle-hunting, in Glenshee I think, about a month ago.)

I have a few Mongolia pictures on my blog, too.

all best