When Rebecca K. O'Connor was eight, her grandfather pointed out a peregrine falcon on a rooftop in Riverside. "She's a falconry bird," he said. "Hear the bells? Look at the leather straps on her legs. They're called 'jesses.'"
Decades later, having endured an absentee mother and abusive stepfather, O'Connor (www.rebeccakoconnor.com) has a peregrine of her own. Though she has flown other birds, "falconry is different. Hunting with a bird is harder, more dangerous," and many fly away or are killed.
Her story is told in "Lift" ($18.95 in paperback from Red Hen Press). Like the talons of a raptor, the deeply felt words of the memoir dig into the reader and won't let go.
The author's multi-media presentation, "Winging It: Living a Life Shaped by Birds and Words," will be featured Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.
She calls her bird "Anakin." As in Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader. He "is so light on my glove. We weigh them in grams, because ounces aren't precise enough to judge the incremental changes in their airy bodies. He is slightly smaller than a crow. . . . I've bought him to hunt desert doves."
O'Connor deftly weaves flashbacks with her sometimes fumbling attempts to train Anakin. "Predator worship is an odd thing, " she writes, "but perhaps not so odd for a woman. I am aware that I am more prey than predator. . . . I am no stranger to being stalked."
It is early on in training (and who, precisely, is being trained?) "The falcon and I look at each other, both startled. Then he bows his head slightly over the bird in his feet, snaps the neck and looks back up. He allows me to meet his gaze, seeing deep into his falcon's eyes and I understand that I could keep this predator on a line forever, but he will never be my pet. Over that shared look our relationship changes just a bit, because suddenly, we both grasp an obvious truth. I am looking into the eyes of a wild peregrine. It's so soon, only ten days, but it's time to let him fly free."
There's a lesson here, and it's not just about falcons.