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The Bookworm Sez: “The Hawk’s Way: Encounters with Fierce Beauty” by Sy Montgomery

The Bookworm Sez: “The Hawk’s Way: Encounters with Fierce Beauty” by Sy Montgomery

It’s no fun saying “King me!” by yourself. Yep, checkers needs two to play, as does chess, backgammon, and Old Maid. Lots of things, in fact, are better when you’re got another pair of hands and another point of view to join you. In the new book “The Hawk’s Way” by Sy Montgomery, though, partnering

It’s no fun saying “King me!” by yourself.

Yep, checkers needs two to play, as does chess, backgammon, and Old Maid. Lots of things, in fact, are better when you’re got another pair of hands and another point of view to join you. In the new book “The Hawk’s Way” by Sy Montgomery, though, partnering with a wild creature is a whole ‘nother game.

The first time that Sy Montgomery met Mahood, he almost instantly swiveled his head toward her face and screamed. Although her husband was alarmed, the scream took her by surprise but she wasn’t nonplussed. Montgomery’s become used to all kinds of critters – pigs, chickens, cats and dogs, and “even an octopus” – but Mahood was a very large Harris’s hawk, and they don’t always take easily to strangers.

She knew what could have happened: a hawk will attack someone who angers it, makes a minor mistake, tries to touch it, or otherwise acts counter to what the hawk decides. A falconer might “train” a hawk, but the bird’s in charge. When you hunt with a hawk, you are it’s “partner,” not its master, Montgomery says – and yes, she was eager to get started. Still, even with expert help and what seemed like a natural way with raptors, she had a lot to learn, including words she couldn’t say to a hawk, body language, and personal protection advice.

There is, as Montgomery discovered, a “language of falconry” that goes beyond mere eating and eliminating to mantling and slicing. Falcons don’t sleep, they jonk. They don’t clean themselves, they feak. And they are not pets, in any sense of the word; new falconers catch their birds in the wild and they must work to learn to co-hunt together.

Despite that training, the bird is still wild.

But though eager to learn falconry, Montgomery had one concern: keeping a hawk around would be dangerous to her chickens. Her hens each had a name; would a hawk decimate her backyard flock? Still, “Who would not hunger for such company?”

You, perhaps, because “The Hawk’s Way” is soaringly beautiful but also uber-cautionary.

Indeed, readers who are eagle-eyed will notice what author Sy Montgomery makes abundantly clear: that though the hawk is a lovely, elegant bird, it’s a creature not to be trifled with. As you’ll read, repeatedly and in so many ways, an angry hawk will hurt you.

Does that deter you? Yea or nay, carry on: the secondary focus of this book are the awe-struck observations of the hawks Montgomery admires, and the beauty and majesty she sees in them. Possible injury aside, nature-loving readers will be thrilled by this, even if descriptions of the actual hunt might make them cringe. Just remember that Montgomery, an admitted animal lover, struggled with it, too.

Birders – especially those who enjoy watching raptors – and anyone who addictively scans the trees on long walks or drives absolutely needs to have “The Hawk’s Way.” Feathered-friend lover that you are, you’ll be enraptured by this book on the Sport of Kings.

“The Hawk’s Way: Encounters with Fierce Beauty” by Sy Montgomery
c.2022, Atria Books
$20.00
79 pages