WHO would have guessed that the smell of a healthy sparrowhawk had “a musty tang, the smell of soft earth, rotting peaches, the marmalade mossiness of dried twigs”? These are the words of Ben Crane, who writes wonderfully about the natural world; he has a keen and sharp eye, alert to fine detail and beauty that most of us might miss.
Crane lives by choice in a remote country cottage, preferring the company of nature to that of other human beings, his senses perpetually invaded by a rich tsunami of impressions: visual, auditory, and olfactory. He makes us look more closely at the natural environment, alert to the world of hedgerow or open heath. His passion is falconry.
Twin themes are intertwined throughout Blood Ties: Crane’s difficulties with human relationships (he was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum when in his forties), illuminated by a moving account of how he reconnected with his young son, whom he had rejected at birth; and the rehabilitation of wounded sparrowhawks for release in the wild, followed by the training of a goshawk for hunting.
© Ben craneBen Crane’s head study of a female goshawk bred by Steve, 2018
He travels far and wide to explore falconry: Texas, to find Harris hawks in the wild; Croatia, for hunting with golden eagles; and Pakistan, where he falls in love with goshawks. The discovery that the demanding training methods can be traced back more than 5000 years impresses him greatly. He finds that he is exhilarated by the hunt and the (sometimes brutal) kill, experiencing a deep sense of authenticity in the activity.
The training of a goshawk is not for the fainthearted: it calls for total devotion and willingness to suffer disappointments and sometimes physical damage from razor-sharp talons. His gruelling account alternates with visits to his son, involving an honest analysis of his own communication problems and the way he feels out of sync with other men of his age. It is a hard but hopeful learning process as his son trains him to share in game-playing.
Eventually, he discovers “the deep joy of paternity” for the first time when together on a fishing expedition.
The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls.
Blood Ties: A memoir of hawks and fatherhood
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