When things go awry
We travelled way out east this past weekend to go to Arizona's Renaissance Fair. Lots of towns have these attractions on the outskirts. Arizona's is just outside Apache Junction, a town known for the lower rent section of RV and trailer parks populated by the blue-collar snowbirds in contrast to Scottsdale's chardonnay and plum collared royalty. For two or three months in the summer (or winter here in the Southwest) a bunch of people in fake Elizabethian accents and often anachronistic costumes, gather every weekend to pretend they are royalty and peasants, wenches and knights, attractive, witty and perfectly capable of pulling off that bodice and/or pirate shirt. Scattered amidst these adult dungeon and dragons gamers are people like me who show up in jeans and a t-shirt to drink beer and watch the frivolity.
Surprisingly, I had a good time. The jousting knights were rather anemic and more comical than catastrophic in being unhorsed. The food was expensive and mediocre. We thought we'd stay three hours until Ciela fell asleep, but ended up spending most of the day there. The shows--outside of the jousts--were entertaining, the shops and craftspeople were intriguing (mostly because we were amazed at how much the costumes actually cost. You're average Lord-y coat going for around $200).
The Royal Falconer's show was one Judy wanted to see, and it started out like most bird shows, a hawk comes out, grabs a dead mouse, flies around a bit and then goes back into a cage (or in this case, a medieval tower). Judy likes them just because she can see raptors up close, and this is about the only thing going for them. We already know most of the educational patter spat out, and the jokes are invariably of poor quality and dubious taste. This one was perhaps a bit better than most, but nothing worth remembering.
Until the red-tail hawk refused to fly to the post, refused to return to the roost, and pretty much refused to behave at all, bringing the show to a halt. The falconer tried in vain, employing various baits, lures and cajolery to get him back. Amidst his increasingly frantic attempts, he mentioned that the bird kept looking up, and he wondered if there was another bird around. The sky was absolutely clear, but after five minutes or so, a speck appeared high up in the sky. Slowly circling and over the course of the next ten minutes, dropping steadily toward the park. We were amazed at the unplanned demonstration of how powerful the eyesight of a hawk is. Even when we finally could see the predatory bird, the whole crowd repeatedly lost sight of him in the distance.
The trainers finally coaxed the hawk back into the roost and brought out a different bird less susceptable to a bullying eagle defending his turf. Yet despite the derailment of the program, or rather because of it, the show was much more successful. The trainers were truly worried about the bird and their ability to protect it or keep it from flying away in escape. The very material existence of these birds was brought home in the sudden danger of the moment. They were no longer zoo animals on display, but points in a very complicated and serious web. We have a tendency, a prediliction to isolate animals into distinct monads. Our pattern is to anthropomorphize them, and at the most extreme we make of them pets and members of the family. But animals (even the human animal) are more process than product. We are intersections in a series of forces, and the presence of the circling eagle revealed quite explicitly one of those lines of force, a pulsating line of fear and adreneline between a grounded hawk and an eagle circling thousands of feet above.
After that, we saw a guy shoot an arrow through an apple on his wife's head. Same principle of forces, but that arrow lacked the metaphoric resonance of the hawk and eagle. That and the John Tesh sound track was without nuance.