"After I got Tess," Robinson went on, "little by little my father got interested. Now he's flying that goshawk right behind me." A great blue-gray bird was preening, and there was Meg's father, Charles. "Yes," he said. "I created roadblocks for Meg, and one by one she knocked them down. She even bought a used shed for the bird's mew with $700 she earned selling earthworms and working in fast-food places. The truth was, I didn't understand why she wanted it so badly. I had no idea then what the commitment would be. If you ever get involved, be prepared to do all sorts of things, such as making equipment, raising food...and moving farther out into the country." Charles Robinson, a Wisconsin machine manufacturer, has done all of the above.
Passion, by its very character, is impossible to capture in words. Meg Robinson tried. "For me, I guess the flight is the most important underlying theme. It's really a form of flying by proxy."
In her journal, Lily agreed: In my opinion, the satisfaction of falconry has most to do with a feeling of wanting to leave the earth and its problems behind and fly above it on wings of freedom.
The majority of falconers are, like Lily and Meg, bitten at a very early age. "For as long as I can remember" is the standard falconer's answer to "How long have you been interesed in falconry?" More often than not, the starting point is a powerful identification with flying birds in childhood—an almost Jungian memory of the human race's fascination with and envy of flight.
Not every kid who jumps off the garage with an umbrella, however, turns to falconry. At the moment, there are only an estimated 2,600 falconers in the U.S., the majority of whom, like Lily and Meg, became fascinated with the sport at an early age.
Lily and I are excited about going on a duck hunt with other members of the Long Island Hawking Club who have come to Lamar with a couple of long-wing cross-country birds, a gyrfalcon and a peregrine falcon. We step out into the frigid morning air, but Lily rushes back into the room and runs some eye liner across her lower lids. I feel that something has to be said. "Don't you think that's a bit of a vanity out here?"
The answer is quick in coming. "Face it, Sam, everything's a vanity."
If that's the case, this morning's true vanity comes in the form of guys from New York who think they can send East Coast falcons after Western quarry, flying over unfamiliar terrain that lies nearly a mile above sea level. Whereas most short-wing hawks are sprung directly from the fist to attack quarry on the ground, long-wings soar overhead and conquer only after the game is flushed into the air. Long-wings' quarry is other birds—out here in Colorado, duck, quail and pheasant mostly. Positioning the free-flying bird properly in relation to the potential quarry is the challenging part of hunting with falcons.
Jim Bonelli, a regional manager for Coca-Cola, is flying the hybrid gyrfalcon dubbed Galahad. Tony Berlingieri, a retired truck driver, has the immature hybrid peregrine called Apollo. We wait about an hour near a small prairie pond for the morning ice fog to lift. There are ducks on the water. The two raptors, hooded and on perches, wait in the rear of a rented station wagon. When visibility improves sufficiently, Jim edges toward the water to be sure the ducks haven't flown. Then he maps out Operation Duck. We take positions around the pond and fix the flight in our field glasses. If ducks and falcons head away and Galahad brings one down, we can run to the spot.
The chances of Galahad's success are exceedingly slim. Not only is the bird out of his element, but he is also a young gyrfalcon who has never flown duck before. Nevertheless, Bonelli, a longshot player like all true falconers, hopes against hope. He disappears with his bird on the far side of the pond. I see Lily on her belly in the tall grass, and when I chuckle she shushes me with a scowl. Then her eyes flash skyward. Jim's bird is aloft. So far so good.