Peregrine Spring: A Master Falconer's Extraordinary Life with Birds of Prey - Nancy Cowan (2016)

Part I. OWNED BY A HAWK

Chapter 9. People in Kilts

A few months before the move, Jim and I were approached by Stephen Avery, the coordinator of the New Hampshire Highland Games, about bringing our birds that fall to present a falconry display at the annual Scottish Games held for two days at Loon Mountain every September. We had no idea when we signed up what a barrage to the senses this celebration would be. It attracted thousands of onlookers, hundreds of athletes and bagpiping competitors, multiple marching bands, sheep and herding dogs, and more people in kilts than I have ever seen in my life. Jim prepared a beautiful display mingling falconry gear with articles from his Scots heritage. Our exhibition area was tucked into the mountainside between the Historic Highland village and the staging for the Celtic rock bands playing in the beer tent.

Mr. Avery understood when we explained that the accommodations had to be such so that we could remove the birds from the hustle and bustle of the games. The sensory overload from the sounds, sights, and thousands of visitors turned out to be greater for the birds and for us than we had expected. For the birds, a quiet place to decompress in the evening proved mandatory. We were given access to an entire condo which provided the respite we needed for settling and feeding the birds, as they refused to eat amidst the commotion of the festival.

Added to these challenges was the Highland garb that we were encouraged to wear. Jim had inherited a full set of kilts from his family and looked very dashing wearing them. I opted for a more prosaic combination of khaki trousers, a white shirt, and a plaid scarf draped across my upper body and secured at my shoulder with a large decorative pin. Injun didn’t seem to mind this or the tam on my head, which was something he had never seen before. Dealing with the huge throng of festival attendees while we were wearing unaccustomed clothing brought unanticipated challenges.

Once or twice a day, Jim and I would leave our helpers at our exhibit and walk about, each with a raptor on our glove. These walkabouts gave us a chance to stop by the many vendor booths. We posed for photo opportunities and told people where they could find our display. Each time, I scouted the long lines at the restrooms located in the main hall. On one trek, however, the line at the women’s indoor restroom was quite short, so I jumped at the opportunity. Jim was carrying his prairie falcon, so he couldn’t take Injun from my glove.

Few of the women coming and going took notice of the hawk I was carrying as I quickly made my way to an empty stall. Once Injun and I were inside the cramped area, I was faced with a predicament. I needed to slip my arm through the loop formed across my body by the plaid scarf, but there was no way to do this if I didn’t find a perch for Injun first. The leash connecting my hawk to my glove was just long enough for him to make it to the top of the partition dividing my compartment from the neighboring stall. From this spot, he surveyed me with great interest.

I hurried about my business, praying that Injun would not move and would stay quiet. But Injun, the very soul of curiosity, turned around to peer down intently at the occupant in the neighboring stall. His bells clinked against the partition. In the space of a heartbeat, a human shriek split the air, and the door of the next stall slammed open. It took me a few seconds to restore my attire and fetch Injun down from his high perch. The woman’s scream still echoed in the restroom as we exited the stall. At the sight of us, several women of various ages at the sinks doubled over in giggles. “Oh, dear,” I said. “I owe someone an apology.”

“You’ll have to catch her first,” one of the women managed to say between fits of laughter. “She was running when she left here!”

Flying Injun at the games was a surreal experience, so removed was it from the noise and activity I could see far below me once I climbed the ski slope. From the ground, the slope looked like a smooth, nearly vertical slant, but as one climbed, the footing leveled out to flat steppes, which would be perfect for flying Injun crisscross style high above the festivalgoers. I could barely hear the announcement of our performance, but once I did, I stood and waved to the crowd. Injun and I blissfully completed his flights to the glove and to the lure. The flight demonstrations were the most relaxing parts of the two-day presentation. I nearly felt guilty for enjoying them so much.