By Julie F.
I’m always thrilled to find a slim work of nonfiction that nonetheless packs a big punch. New Hampshire author and naturalist Sy Montgomery provides just that in her 79-page volume, The Hawk’s Way: Encounters with Fierce Beauty, a concise but wondrous celebration of raptors and their impact on her life. Accompanied by the stunning photography of artist Tianne Strombeck (see her wildlife photography galleries here), Montgomery’s story of her journey from hunting skeptic to passionate advocate for birds of prey will thrill any nature lover, or for that matter, any casual nonfiction reader.
It all begins with a visit to master falconer Nancy Cowan and a four-year-old Harris’s hawk named Jazz. Nancy warns Sy about Jazz – her unwillingness to cooperate, her feisty nature, and of course the fact that this easily provoked species can tear skin and pierce to the bones with their fierce talons – and yet, Sy is smitten: “I know I don’t matter to her at all. Yet, to me, she is everything” (16). As we see the progression of Sy’s work with Jazz and Cowan’s other raptors, we learn tidbits about the language, history, and specialized gear of falconry, all of which fascinates and contributes to our understanding of their bond. Yet, as interesting as these facts are, Montgomery confesses that, “From falconry I want only one thing: to get closer to birds of prey. Majestic, graceful, strong, big, brave, and smart: Who would not hunger for such company” (24)?
As Montgomery learns more about bird anatomy and vision, methods of catching a wild hawk to train, and even what it means for a hunting dog to “get birdy,” the reader is pulled along on her intellectual, ethical, and emotional journey. She questions whether she is really cut out to be a falconer; after all, she is told time and again by experts that the hawks will kill her precious domesticated chickens – no holds barred, no quarter given. The book is a compassionate, compelling, but stark look at the lives of these fierce creatures – sometimes bloody and violent, sometimes full of soaring elevation and elation, always and forever wild.
Sy Montgomery is the author of thirty-three books of nonfiction for both children and adults, including The Good Good Pig, How To Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, and The Soul of an Octopus, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Described as “equal parts poet and scientist” by The New York Times, she also scripted and narrated the National Geographic documentary based on her book Spell of the Tiger. The Hawk’s Way is also available as an e-audiobook from Libby/OverDrive. I listened to Montgomery’s narration as I read along, and the enthusiasm for her subject conveyed in her voice made this a wonderful listen.
Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch who finds her work as co-editor of Chapter Chats very rewarding. She loves gardening, birds, crime fiction, all kinds of music, and the great outdoors.