Rock and Hawk

“This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final

Life with calm death; the faqlcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.”

Robinson Jeffers, Rock and Hawk

Black Gyr on basalt in Iceland, taken by Kirk Hogan theee days ago

Charles Schwartz RIP

Bruce Haak emailed me last night that my old friend Charles Schwartz had died, from a fast-acting brain tumor. I hadn’t even known he was sick.

Charlie was a great falconer, and a perfectionist. He ended up flying passage Gyrfalcons and Sage grouse, in the high deserts of Idaho; this high-end grouse hawking is still one of the most amazing and demanding forms of falconry.

I first met Charlie with Betsy, on our long tour of the West that ended up with our moving to Magdalena; but not before we had swung up through Idaho and Nevada. Later, he worked for the Gulf Sheiks breeding falcons for seven years. They paid very well, and they gave him a grubstake for life, but he came back screaming “No more Insh’Allah!!” *

He visited Magdalena soon after his return and brought the first two Barbary falcons I had ever seen with him, tiny compared to their Peregrine near- relatives but elegant and wedge- shaped, almost triangular,  with the colors of iron and rust (I believe they were haggards trapped on migration). We took one out in the grassy valley between the San Mateos and the Magdalenas where she mounted up to an astonishing height.

Later we visited Floyd Mansell, my natural history and hunting mentor in Magdalena. Charlie vehemently denounced Floyd’s cockfighting. Finally, Floyd took us out to his backyard, and armed two roosters with “sparring muffs”; basically, little boxing gloves that fit over their spurs. We put the roosters down as if for a fight, drawing a line in the dirt with our bootheels, and let the cocks see each other over our arms. Finally we put them on the ground, and they began to display at each other standing broadside to make themselves look bigger and fluffing up their necks. When they started to grapple, we picked them up. Charlie was apparently astonished because the behavior was so obviously hard-wired. “That’s ANIMAL BEHAVIOR!”

Charlie attended the first Wildbranch Writing Workshop, when Annie Proulx, the founder, was still there. We “old folks” (two of us in our 40s and two in our 50s)  retreated into our own little group in the summer evenings — Annie, Charlie, me and the late J. B. Stearns (a Vermont writer who resembled a huge Santa Claus and was directly descended from one of the Green Mountain Boys, who never achieved the status he deserved), would ride around in JB’s ’62 Cadillac convertible, drinking beer and singing doo-wop songs. We had a lot of fun, but in the workshop Charlie brought his obsessive perfectionism toward everything to the fore. He wrote for a week on a story about a falconer trying to train Merlins who was so obsessive in his pursuit of perfection that he would barely let his bird fly. An advisor in the story tried to get the guy to lighten up, and eventually succeeded. Charlie seemed blind to the fact that the metaphor in the story extended into his life. He polished the story all week long and absolutely refused to send it out for appraisal, ever, saying it was crap compared the work of other writers he admired.

I think the last time I actually saw Charlie was at the Sun Valley Library writer’s event, which Libby catered for. We never did see each other that often but we  kept in touch, and we were always happy to share strong opinions. He will be missed by all of us, and especially by his long-time wife, Marty Brown.

If I hear any more anecdotes of Charlie, I’ll put them in here.

* For a glimpse of the cultural baggage that drove Charlie crazy, see veterinarian  David Remple’s Footprints on the Toilet Seat. Been there…

“A Hundred Sorrows”

Old Year news, which I didn’t want to make anyone sad about during the Holidays. In the kind of  coincidence weirdly common in falconry– see the quote referenced above and quoted in full below– good friends (and good falconers) lost both my birds in one December week. Rio/ Guero had been brought to the point of taking quarry by Tavo Cruz when he went into one of those sudden twelve – hour downward  spirals that used to make an old eagler I know mutter that “Gyrs have AIDS”. It IS better these days, but Gyrs, in addition to being almost impossible for me to follow these days except under the best conditions, are still more delicate and “immunologically innocent” than many slighter species.

Meanwhile, Bodie had lost his good Saker in as strange a set of circumstances as I have ever known; to a coyote in his library at night, with a locked door between it and the young deerhounds, who would have settled its hash. The coyote locked itself in, and Bodie shot it with his 1911; his suburban neighbors in Corrales tried to get him in trouble for shooting it (in his house, mind you), because they feed coyotes. That this may well end up with the coyotes eating their toddlers apparently hasn’t occurred to these idiots. Read Valerius Geist.

Anyway, I lent him Chicken and she had a good season, flying and killing even large ducks on a nearby golf course pond, until one day she missed one, and not being the most lofty of falcons (that heavy Shahin wingloading that gives speed but not lift) landed on an electric transformer and fell to the ground, instantly burnt to death. This was a week after losing Rio. Sadly, not a rare fate for a bird; there is one in my alley that takes a regular toll of feral pigeons.

Both birds were given good lives, good flying and kills, and I thank my friends. But now I must devise a way of falconry that works for me with my present level of physical competence (and that uses ones I can fly off or out of vehicles if necessary). I think it will be small Accips and male Harrises, though some micro- falcons may work too.

The only falconry that is unacceptable is NO falconry. But Gace de la Vigne knew:

De chiens, d’oyseaux, d’armes, d’amours,

Pour une joye, cent doulours.”


Rio, or “Guero” (Whitey or Blondie as opposed to Tavo’s little black Gyr MERLIN Negrito) is making progress. Photos by Shiri Hoshen, training by Octavio Cruz…

UPDATE: The little guy has brains too! Tavo writes: “Last night Güero flew off after chasing two rabbits. I got him back right after dark.

“He flew back to my car in the dark. I saw him with my head lights.

“I was closing in w the telemetry and when he saw the car 1/4 mile away he flew to it.

“Good bird!!!”


Rio with his ball. He still has down. I am not used to hulking 38 ounce tiercels and their prolonged infancy- biggest male falcon I have ever flown, and slowest to mature. Though it may take him into the rains… cool, in several senses…

Pre- flight

Pre- flight training at Lee Henderson’s La Jencia Ranch. In the last three I am alternating an oversized Kazakh hood he has been training with and a proper Gyr hood– the rest are self explanatory. Double or right click for BIG images.

Lib reminds me to say that the ranch has good grass over most of it, not trampled sand and cow poop- we are starting his training right in by the inner corrals around the house,  because we want him to home in there if he wanders. Last photo, added later, would be on high ground just to the right of the first photo with the sign, at the edge of the rising ground, looking from that high ground back over the whole ranch, virtually through the headquarters where these were taken.

Update on the new kid

He is just at the age that he can trash the house, and soon we must take him up, but he is a lot of fun. What in the world do people talk about who don’t have animals?

And what are these THINGS on my legs? Oversized Kazakh jesses designed for a Siberian Gos, too big but easier to get on for a single person– Libby does not like “casting”birds– and useful if only to get him used to the idea.