21 Winters

Coming-of-Age with a Lesson in Falconery

Reenita Malhotra Hora

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The young apprentice with his falcon

An afternoon in Scotland heralds the approach of a would-be falconer’s 21st winter season. A lesson in falconry highlighting a startling truth: “a bird does not fly of its own free will.”

Why would a creature of wing designed for aero-dynamic lift, resist the call of flight? Would this not be an anomaly of creation itself?

The falconry trainer posits the idea of staying in a safe-house. “Would you forsake familiar environs to venture into uncharted territory?” he asks. “Should a bird not then question the dangers of soaring to unknown skies?”

Evolution has schooled the raptor in survival skills. Today it knows that resisting flight will provide it the best chance for survival. Out in the wild, it stands to face adversity, starvation, and multiple unseen threats. It clings fast then to its perch, resisting the opportunity to flap its wings beyond the guarded distance of a landing pole. It returns instead to the leathered glove of the young would-be falconer who somewhat trepidatiously eyes the winged creature from inches away, as it preys upon food particles caught in the fingers of his glove. The would-be falconer is an apprentice, his own journey not too far off from that of his feathered companion. He too apprehends an impending flight beyond the diminishing days of boyhood.

En pointe is the trainer’s counsel to the apprentice on this eve of his 21st winter: “In staying with the falconer, the bird knows it will eat, even if its hunt is not successful.”

The young apprentice has left his place at the family table, taking instead to the cooking stove. Now he is surrounded by scorching sauté pans, the swirling winds of convection ovens, and the simmering patience of fryer oil. In 21 winters he has arrived at the realization that mastery lies not in the final outcome of the dish, but from what he has learned at the preparation table. And though he may journey from kitchen to kitchen, experimenting with recipes old and new, he remains rest assured in one simple truth: the hearth of his mother’s kitchen will always signal “home.”

“Safe lodgings once translated to the shortest possible flight but now the bird signals a readiness to venture forth,” the trainer reminds.

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Reenita Malhotra Hora

Reenita Malhotra Hora is Chief Storyteller at Chapter by episode, and creator of Shadow Realm & the True Fiction Project. She has authored seven books.