Falconers are fond of quoting the father of conservation, Aldo Leopold, when he says in his book A Sand County Almanac that, "All in all, falconry is the perfect hobby." And why shouldn't we? If such an iconic personality thought so highly of our sport then it must truly be the best thing going, right?
Indeed the words preceding the above sound bite certainly make a grand case for it:
"The most glamorous hobby I know of today is the revival of falconry. It has a few addicts in America and perhaps a dozen in England – a minority indeed. For two and a half cents one can buy and shoot a cartridge that will kill the heron whose capture by hawking required months or years of laborious training of both the hawk and the hawker. The cartridge, as a lethal agent, is a perfect product of industrial chemistry. One can write a formula for its lethal reaction. The hawk, as a lethal agent, is the perfect flower of that still utterly mysterious alchemy – evolution. No living man can, or possibly ever will, understand the instinct of predation that we share with our raptorial servant. No man-made machine can, or ever will, synthesize that perfect coordination of eye, muscle, and pinion as he stoops to his kill."
I came across these words just the other day as I was perusing yet another falconry website and was inspired to look up Leopold's words in my own copy of his book. The passage is found in a section called A Man's Leisure Time.
Here Leopold quotes Ariosto (I can only assume this is the Ariosto he refers to?) in saying,
"How miserable are the idle hours of the ignorant man"
"There are not many texts that I am able to accept as gospel truths, but this is one of them. I am willing to rise up and declare my belief that this text is literally true; true forward, true backward, true even before breakfast. The man who cannot enjoy his leisure is ignorant, though his degrees exhaust the alphabet, and the man who does enjoy his leisure is to some extent educated, though he has never seen the inside of a school.
I cannot easily imagine a greater fallacy than for one who has several hobbies to speak on the subject to those who may have none. For this implies prescription of avocation by one person for another, which is the antithesis of whatever virtue may inhere in having any at all. You do not annex a hobby, the hobby annexes you. To prescribe a hobby would be dangerously akin to prescribing a wife--with about the same probability of a happy outcome."
Try as I might to explain my passion for falconry to my wife, to instill in her that spark of excitement that I feel everytime I go out, she will never understand why I spend my free time "watching birds fly around". She will never be a falconer, to her it is a pointless activity.
Curiously it is exactly that quality (pointlessness) that raises falconry to such a high level in the eyes of Leopold! He says,
"What is a hobby anyway? Where is the line of demarcation between hobbies and ordinary normal pursuits? I have been unable to answer this question to my own satisfaction. At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant."
How many falconers quote Leopold as saying that falconry is the perfect hobby without knowing that what he means is that falconry perfectly fulfills the requirements of being useless, inefficient, laborious, and irrelevant!
Put that way falconry seems slightly less "perfect"! Nonetheless, I think I'll keep at it! :-P