Matt, Ernie and a Pheasant
Matt Mullenix has been a falconer for 27 years. His first falconry bird, Savannah, was a broad-winged hawk he flew in Panama. Although he had been rehabbing screech owls for a local facility, it was the hawk that set him on the path to a lifelong engagement with falconry. His list of falconry mentors is long, but forced to choose, he cites Harry McElroy as an inspiration, noting that although it is too late for any of us to be Harry, we can aspire to be like him and Matt does. Matt works as a VP in Public Relations for the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations. He passes the time during the moult sipping IPAs, eating game and garden vegetables while sharing stories with friends and neighbors about books or football or kids or marriage and often, even in mixed company, falconry.
1) First question includes partial disclosure… we met online back in the days when the kids were just getting online. Then down the road I convinced you to almost bust a lung flushing ducks for my falcon. (Got a spoonie!) You paid me back by telling the whole Internet about my (slightly drunken) assertion that the guest house next to the Bodio’s is haunted. (It is!) I think it’s safe to say we’re friends. How has falconry influenced, shaped and shaken up your friendships over the years?
First, more disclosure: The little house next to Steve’s is definitely haunted. That’s a documented fact, since you and I both documented it. Also, I was glad for your spoonbill, but I vowed never again to run so hard or so far for anyone else’s bird. It gets easier to stick to that promise ever year.
Friendships? Outside immediate family, virtually all my friends and mentors are falconers.
One of my best friends, Eric Edwards of Florida, is an outstanding falconer and my partner in so many small crimes we will never run out of things to talk about over beer. My wedding to Shelly was like a tri-state falconry club summer picnic. My funeral, I hope, will be also.
The power of falconry to shape and seal friendships is something I find myself extolling to new falconers, sometimes to their mild embarrassment or confusion. This is not an aspect of our sport often written about in manuals, but look closely and you will see it. Falconers rely on each other for instruction, aid, companionship, moral and morale support. Like war veterans, perhaps, falconers need one another to understand all the things that can then be left unsaid. This is a relief, and a blessing.
As a falconer who “grew up” in the sport, I can attest also that falconry can provide real job or even career opportunities: what we now call social networking—but through networks based in real-world, personal experience and not solely on internet profiles. Falconry has always been a guild sport.
Hawk and Dog
2) Most of us know you from your writings on falconry, especially American Kestrels in Modern Falconry, a much needed and influential book. Writing a how-to book on falconry has always been incredibly intimidating to me. In fact, I’ll never write one and have a great deal of admiration for yours. What did you learn from writing an informational book for the sport?
Thank you, Rebecca. In fact, I learned a great deal from writing American Kestrels, both about falconry and about publishing. Writing invites and demands close attention to detail, and this is essential to good falconry. Publishing, I learned, is very tedious and an ego-breaker as much as an ego boost. It is not for wimps. At best, being “a published author” in our small circle is a mixed bag.
On the other hand, I’ve met many wonderful people through the book, which still circulates thanks to continued investment and promotion from publisher David Frank at Western Sporting.
But I would say American Kestrels is less a How-To-Do-It book than a How-It-Can-Be-Done book. Kestrels are game and relatively hardy little falcons that have been flown successfully by hundreds of people, at least, and for decades. The techniques I used and wrote down were a mix of personal experience and borrowed wisdom from others. In falconry there are so many paths to success; I can’t say mine is the only or the best, but it is certainly one and well tested.
Will you never write a How-It-Can-Be-Done book? I wonder! I think you have already.
3) The Internet has really changed the way we information share. While I suspect we will all still collect physical books, we now live in a world where anyone can publish their experiences and “expertise” online. In fact, you have been a frequent blogger in the last decade. What sort of advice would you give to a falconer who wanted to share his or her experiences in writing?
Writing should be encouraged among falconers, not necessarily at length but regularly. Writing improves general awareness of the day-to-day, and it provides a valuable record for later weeks or years when past events tend to blur together or disappear. Trust me on this one.
I’ve written two falconry books and parts of others, plus a lot of blogging about falconry and a few other topics. I have been pleased with some of my writing and its effects but certainly not all. My writing benefits from revision and time for focus, and it often suffers from hasty delivery.
Therefore my one caution with the new media (online publication) is that it can be dangerously easy and quick for a thought to get from your mind to the masses. Writing, as I knew it growing up, was a slow process toward publication if it moved in that direction at all. Most of what anyone wrote prior to 1995 never saw the light of day, and that’s probably a good thing. I wonder now if any thought successfully escapes publication.
Maggie and Briana Mullenix
4) You have been a falconer for all of your adult life. I was trying to explain to a newbie falconer the other day about the ebb and flow of this obsession over the course of a few decades. I think even true love has its ups and downs –although it seems almost sacrilege to say such a thing. But the last few seasons have been tough, even lackluster, for me. Has falconry always been a steadfast passion for you?
Falconry has been a bright spot for me since the age of 14. It has dimmed recently, to be honest with you, but only relative to its earlier brilliance and to that of new lights—my children, marriage, career—that are almost blinding if taken in all at once. I often wonder how new falconers, adults already enthralled with family and work, can see enough daylight to make good on falconry’s promise. It might be impossible to expect any passion to burn undiminished for a lifetime. I shouldn’t expect that of falconry, but I admit I’m surprised to see other concerns eclipse it even a little.
In addition to a busy modern life, something happened this year to seriously complicate my falconry. I lost a large and fertile hawking spot, a cattle ranch near my home that featured prominently in my book In Season. This property was increasingly important to my falconry as more places fell to development year after year. It was, for one falconer with one hawk and one dog, almost all I needed for a full season’s hawking.
When its owners sold the cattle and turned the land to soybeans, they plowed every inch of pasture and briar and felled nearly every tree. I’m still welcome on the farm, but there’s nothing for me to do there.
Falconers will tell you this is commonplace experience. I could have seen it coming. But I realized only when this happened how leveraged my falconry had become and how vulnerable it was without this last retreat. I’m not sure how I’ll compensate in the coming season. It is frankly depressing.
5) Aliens abduct you and are going to suck away all of your falconry memories for the purposes of their “Experience the Universe — Just like you were there!” theme-park. They tell you can keep one memory. What will it be?
I think the aliens already came. I mentioned earlier about the importance of writing as a lasting record of one’s falconry, and to me this is now vital. With the exception of a few photo albums and ephemeral blog posts, my books contain my sharpest memories of anything specific in almost three decades of falconry.
I have numerous warm if general reflections of favorite hunting spots, friends, birds, dogs and even individual days in the field. But these are usually triggered by photos or by phone calls with friends. If I had just one shining memory to keep forever, I might first have to recover it (through hypnosis?) to make sure it was the best one. Thankfully, it could be one of many hundreds of good memories—any of them, probably.
Given my weakening grasp of specifics, what I want to remember for all time is this: That falconry made me feel whole. For at least a moment in every hunt, I was infused with the whole life of a place and the whole of my attention on it. And that I shared this state of full attention with good animals and good people who knew, instinctively or consciously—or both at once—that we were each connected, of a piece with that place and point in time.
I love this interview, Matt. When we talk about falconry it seems we never talk about simple challenges, like living a wonderful life in conjunction with the sport. It is easy to fly birds with abandon when you are a kid or retired, but there’s a life to live in between there. Thanks for the spoonie, for backing up my ghost story and for your friendship!
You can read more of Matt’s writing along with Steve Bodio’s over at Querencia.