Conversation #4

I grew up with a mother who could, and would, talk with anyone. Standing in line, the person next to her in an auditorium, it never mattered. I have several memories from my teenage years of being embarrassed due to her willingness to interact with any and every one, at any time. One of my favorite stories (now) is the time we left a Boston restaurant with a doggie bag. “But, Mom, the dog is back at home. What are you going to do with that food?” “We’ll find a dog”, was her calm reply. And find a dog, we did. A large Irish Setter in the back of a small VW. She had to jump out of our rental car at a stoplight and shove the doggie bag through an open window of the car next to us to do it, but she found a dog. The driver was astonished, the dog ecstatic, and my brother and I mortified, my dad unfazed as we drove off.

As embarrassing as I found her behavior at times, there I was last week as we left the Calaboose, headed across Durham Park toward a complete stranger. But she was out in the park with her yellow lab, who was carrying a frisbee, and a hawk on her arm. I’m looking for people to talk with and she looked like an interesting person to have a conversation with. Luckily for me, she didn’t think I was too crazy since I suspect she gets questions all the time.

Audrey is a licensed Raptor Trainer at the apprentice level and she introduced us to Oona, the dog, and Drogo, the red-tailed hawk. Based on Oona’s training, I would say she clearly has a talent for working with animals. Oona (“like Charlie Chaplin’s wife”) is a high energy lab who, apparently, would retrieve his Frisbee indefinitely. But he waited patiently for one of us to throw, came when called, sat perfectly for a picture even as Drogo was flapping his wings, and was generally a model citizen.

Audrey’s has training and used to work in wildlife rehabilitation and started this work just a few months ago when she moved to Texas. As has been true so far in all of my conversations, I learned about something new and unexpected. Falconers are licensed by the state and have to go through several years of training, two years as an apprentice with a general or master level falconer. Once you become a general falconer, there are five more years of work before you reach master level.

Apprentice falconers have to capture a juvenile hawk from the wild. Audrey explained that the mortality rate of a juvenile hawk is about 80% and is part of conservation efforts. If you are curious about the dedication it takes to become a falconer, check out the links I’ve placed on the resource page. But a simple example is the need for a ‘mews’. Her second bedroom is completely given over to providing a home for Drogo.

We didn’t get to see Drogo fly since they had been working for a bit and she was out of treats. As she said, raptors are all about food and for them the only training mechanism that works is positive reinforcement. I did get to touch him by gently running a finger along his breast feathers. He’s a beautiful creature.

The goal of having 52 conversations with people in San Marcos, when added to the example set by my mother, led to a unexpected and fascinating conversation. I don’t have another conversation scheduled yet, but I hope you’ll check in to see who I find to talk to next. I’m looking forward to finding out as well.

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