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The falconer's apprentice


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You can't drive a car at fifteen, but if you've taken a hunter's education class, obtained a hunting license, lined up a sponsor, passed a national exam administered by Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, gathered equipment, built suitable housing, and arranged for an inspection, you can become a falconer's apprentice. Suffice it to say that the number of hoops you have to jump through to actually do falconry presents a steep mountain of deterrents to anyone who is less than completely dedicated to pursuing it.

Falconry is why Austin couldn't wait to turn fifteen. But he's been preparing for this birthday for considerably more than a year. I'm not exactly sure when hawks and falcons caught Austin's attention and took his breath away. But when he started to look into what it would take to capture and keep a bird of prey, he began to look at life with an impassioned, do-whatever-it-takes attitude. Step by step, beginning with a part-time job bagging groceries to pay for it all, Austin has accomplished a considerable amount of what is required for the sport. Falconry, after all, isn't keeping a bird of prey as a pet. It is training a bird of prey to hunt for you.

To Austin, there is nothing more wonderful than the sight of a hawk or falcon diving after its quarry. What I've seen while accompanying him on some hawk related field trips has been beautiful and inspiring. But watching Austin pursue what he loves is even more wonderful.

A few weeks ago the two of us spent a day with a couple of local falconers attempting to trap an immature red tail hawk. We'd spot a bird, lay the bait, move away, and wait. If it looked like the bird went for it, we'd go and check the trap. If he took flight and left the scene, we'd watch with awe. While we weren't successful, the thrill of the hunt was utterly exhilarating. Ever since that day, I can't get into the car and drive anywhere without looking for hawks along the highways or near high tension power lines.

I think God is a bit like hunter. He is patient and persistent in his pursuit. He knows how we think, how we see things, and what will move us. He offers us what is irresistible to draw us closer to him. And there are times when it seems that even God is thrilled by the chase.

To be caught by the Almighty is not to lose one's life or freedom, however. To belong to God, and allow him to care for you, is to know both security and the joy of relationship. When we decide that we will come when he whistles and hunt in partnership with him, we find ourselves no longer tethered to the drives of untamed desires, but free to take the sky.

Hunting season has begun. For God, I think it never really closes. The human heart, after all, is always in season. We may run from his pursuit for a time, but when we grow weary or hungry enough to slow down, we may find in him the hand that feeds us, guides and blesses us.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.

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