Sunday, September 7, 2008

Farewell to Bristol Renaissance Faire

Monday, Labor Day, September 1, J. and I made our last trip to 2008 Bristol Renaissance Faire. This time we arrived earlier than usual—early enough to pay parking and admission.

Thanks to the luxury of extra time, the first thing I did was to drag him to the jousting/exhibition arena. The timing was perfect because master falconer Ray Pena was beginning his talk. Although I know a fair amount about falconry (even beyond T. H. White's failed effort recounted in The Goshawk), I'd never seen a demonstration of raptors flown to the lure.

Pena explained how the birds are caught, handled, and trained. He emphasized that the falconer doesn't force the bird to do anything (other than to be captive, of course). Birds are hooded to keep them calm; then, as they become accustomed to their surroundings, the presence of people, and the falconer's voice, the falconer will touch them. As training progresses, the lure is baited. Later, it is not.

He removed the hood from the first bird, a female African saker (I think—I am not sure I heard correctly) falcon. The falconer uses the bird's name, which should rouse it. At that point, the bird is ready to fly. He mentioned the challenge of the area—trees and cables, not to mention unfamiliarity—and the possibility of a bird getting lost or tangled. Pena said he places a radio transmitter on their tails prior to flight just in case.

Both the female and male saker (I think) falcons flew out of my sight and back and forth several times before attacking the lure. The male's smaller size makes him faster and more maneuverable, so it's not necessarily a hunting disadvantage. By the way, Pena has a sense of humor—the male's name is Hunter.

As part of his introduction, Pena had talked about the origins of falconry, its hierarchy, and the role of birds and dogs in the hunt, but we missed much of that part. I think of falconry as a sport, but he made it sound like, at least for some at one time, practicing falconry properly was an essential part of food acquisition.

The third and final bird was a peregrine—female, I think. I've seen only one peregrine in the "wild"—when a co-worker asked me about a bird that had landed on a ledge across a narrow courtyard. Not only was it close enough to be easy for me to identify as a peregrine, but after a few minutes it tucked its head under its wing and fell asleep. I wondered if it was an after-breakfast nap.

After contributing to the upkeep of Hunter and friends, we watched the strength game (where you try to ring the bell at the top of a column) for a while. The young man running it issued several challenges to specific men, but we didn't see anyone make it to "king" (we heard the bell after we had moved on, so someone mighty must have taken him up on his insults). J. and I remained inconspicuous intentionally; neither of us wished to be a mere "pustule." A little girl tried the child's version, swinging the hammer like a, well, girl and delivering a weak, glancing blow. Is this really a feminine trait?

After that we looked into the shops. I bought silver and onyx earrings at the Black Pearl as my sole indulgence. I didn't hurry J. (much), so by the gate we caught a rousing farewell to the faire song. I wonder if the participants are relieved that their work is done after eight or so weekends or if they find it sad that their opportunity to be bigger than bland modern life is over. Most likely, it's a mixture of both.

After a little side road wandering and tension, we were in time for dinner at Apple Holler and to see the goats on the bridge outlined against the twilight. A white chicken was wandering in the parking lot, so I approached it to ask if it was okay. It rewarded me with that wonderful low clucking growl that chickens use as a warning.

I ordered turkey for dinner.

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