Captivated by a chance meeting with a falconer’s peregrine as a child, the indelible memory leads the author to flying a peregrine falcon of her own and discovering that the journey is not as much about training the falcon as what it is the falcon has to teach her. Exploring themes of predator and prey, finding tribe, forgiveness and femininity, Lift asks universal questions through the unique perspective of a woman chasing her heart in the wake of a wayward falcon.
Red Hen Press
“In Lift, Rebecca O’Connor intertwines storiesof the mother who left her and then returns, a grandfather who lovingly guides her, men who do not always accept her strength and intuition, and the Peregrine falcon who teaches her some of life’s most enduring lessons. By the time you finish this book, you’ll come to love both the feisty Ms. O’Connor and her avian companions Anakin and Ty, and you’ll be touched by what she gains and what she gives up.
O’Connor has lived a fascinating and singular life… and she writes about it with great good humor, searing honesty, and a writing style that is original, lyrical, breathtaking. I began this book on a Sunday morning, couldn’t put it down until I’d finished later that day. I knew nothing of falconry before I started reading this –if anything, I felt a vague distaste for it. Now I understand its power, both visceral and metaphoric, and how the sport honors the hunter and the hunted, nature and our place in it.
If you’ve appreciated memoirs by Mary Karr or Jeannette Walls, if you enjoy beautiful prose about the natural world, if you havean interest in birds, even if you fit into none of the above categories…do not miss this book. I read several books a week and this easily made it onto my “best of the year” list. I give it my highest recommendation, and hope that Ms. O’Connor (who is so wise and talented despite beingso young) writes a companion volume that covers her years as a professional bird trainer and further explores her journey to becoming a master falconer.”
~ Jean M. Hanson in her Amazon.com Review, October 2009
A First Reads win and I am glad I won, not just because it means a free book for me but I was introduced to Anakin… well, Rebecca O’Connor’s writing. For those that are interested I rate all books with two stringent criteria. Does the writingflow (am I able to be absorbed or am I struggling) and do I care what happens next. I am happy to say that O’Connor’s writing flows very well and I was always curious to what happens next. Her italicized inserts of her childhood and previous experiences were very interesting insights into her past. Do they have anything do with falconry? Sometimes. Do they make you feel like you have opened a little window to take a peak into the author’s private life? Definitely.
As a duck and pheasant hunter I have seen where there is a falconry season and thought it was interesting. I had no idea that the falconer had such a role in flushing the game. Incredible dedication!
~Lonnie in his Goodreads.com Review, October 2009
I won this on First Reads and thoroughly enjoyed it. With a great deal of passion for her sport, Rebecca O’Connor gives a vivid account of the ups and downs of training a peregrine falcon while reflecting on her painful childhood. No wonder she excels in doing what she loves the most–being a falconer! This memoir reveals a wonderful transformation that occurs but only after years of dedication, understanding and forgiveness. And then there’s Anakin who makes your heart flutter every time he’s released……
~Barbara Schaffer in her Goodreads.com Review, October 2009
This book introduced me to a pastime I knew nothing about, building a trusting relationship with a wild falcon pet. Over and over Rebecca O’Connor had to risk letting her beloved bird fly free in order to train it to work together with her as a hunting partner–a process of muddy, out-of-breath, heart-racing trial and error and steadfast perseverance. As a vegetarian I was surprisingly moved and fascinated. O’Connor has a love and respect for animals, both predatorand prey, not too far from my own vaguely held beliefs. The evolving relationships O’Connor has with her mother and boyfriend also add to her story.
~Jaylia3 in her Goodreads.com Review, October 2009
“Rebecca K. O’Connor’s memoir of falconry and life is written with passion, compassion and grace, by turns both poetic and heartbreaking. She depicts both raptorial ferocity and a little girl’s vulnerability equally well, with an eye as perfect as her falcon’s. I envy her way with words.”
~ Stephen Bodio, author of Querencia and Eagle Dreams
“Rebecca K. O’Connor is an extraordinary writer who has written a memoir like no other. She beautifully braids the stories of an agonizing childhood, a daughter’s forgiveness, and a tempestuous love affair with a predatory bird. Like her peregrine falcon, O’Connor’s prose is savage and graceful, her narrative filled with breathtaking turns. I could not put this book down—and when I finished, I couldn’t wait to read it again. Lift soars.”
~ Sy Montgomery, author of national bestseller of The Good Good Pig
“Liftis not simply the story of one woman’s desire to understand and control her world through the art of falconry–it is a story of holdingon, of lettinggo, of recognizing and allowingthe competingforces in our lives to sustain and shape us. Predator and prey, what is loved and what is hated, what we must accept and what we must reject–each of these dichotomies becomes Rebecca K. O’Connor’s quarry. This memoir is a beautiful and poignant story of love, loss, and redemption. In a landscape that tests her ability to withstand the everyday vigors of survival, O’Connor lets the bird of her heart fly free.”
~ Kim Barnes, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist In the Wilderness
“Rebecca K. O’Connor writes that falconry is a religion; she has found a new and true believer in this vegetarian soul. I love how she explores both the pain and majesty of the natural world and the pain and majesty of a woman’s heart. Lift is a thrilling, moving read.”
~ Gayle Brandeis, author of The Book of Dead Birds and Self Storage
This is a wonderful book — in the style of something Terry Tempest Williams or Gretel Ehrlich would have written — the story of a woman’s relationship with nature and her family told through the lens of her training her first peregrine falcon. For anyone that is a birder, this is a must. For anyone who is drawn to stories about the land and people of the American west, it is also another must. The book captures the sensations of the land, and the sadness one has as we watch that land succumb to development. It also drops into Ms. O’Connor’s personal life in poignant ways. A very worth while read.
~ Naseem Rahka, author of The Crying Tree from her Goodreads.com review, November 2009
One of the wonderful things about bloggers is the variety of perspectives they bring to the table. If you are wondering if you would enjoy Lift you may want to investigate what different voices have to say. You will also find some great blogs here! Find out what book bloggers, authors, a book seller, a birder, a parrot enthusiast, a nature writer and a hunter have to say about Lift and find some great blogs in the process.
“This book didn’t really read like the type of memoirs that I am used to reading. I usually stray from memoirs only because if not written and done right, these books can be dull and uninteresting. I am excited to say that Lift does not fall in this category. Lift gives you wings to soar, far above the clouds.”
~Cheryl K., Cheryl’s Book Nook, August 27, 2009
Read the whole review here and check out the rest of Cheryls blog for opinions on new releases that you might want to pick up to read.
Cheryl reviews a variety of upcoming and newly released fiction as an honest reader just like you and me. Her site gives a synopsis and a review and often includes giveaways and author interviews. Check it out!
“I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in memoirs and interested in the natural world. I found the stories very moving and the description of the birds in their natural habitat, hunting naturally, very beautiful as well as informative.”
~ Harvee Lau, Book Bird Dog, September 2, 2009
Read the whole review here and follow Book Bird Dog to find great reads!
Harvee Lau reviews mystery, literary fiction and memoir (as well as the occasional stray) on the lovely blog Book Bird Dog. The blog carefully gives a synopsis, a thoughtful review and information on how to get the book. Head over and see what’s new.
“You’ve never read a book like this before, and you will never forget it after you’ve read it.”
~ P.J. Grath, Books in Northport, October 7, 2009
Read the whole review here and follow Books in Northport to find wonderful recommendations from bookseller!
P.J. Grath is a bookseller in Northport Michigan, proprietor of Dog Ears Book. She reviews a bit of whatever currently tickles her fancy, ponders the landscape and the life of running a book store in a small town. See what going on at the blog and over at Dog Ears Books!
“O’Connor does an excellent job building tension, releasing it just a little at a time as her story of working with her first peregrine unfolds … all the while you can almost imagine yourself as a falcon chasing a lure, following it as the author spins it away from you again and again, until its time to resolve the conflict and you can devour your prize.
~ Melanie Phung, Best in Flock, October 13, 2009
Read the whole review here and follow Best in Flock for more on the world of parrots.
Melanie Phung writes a popular parrot blog and offers advice and encouragement about living life with birds. Sometimes parrots aren’t all that different than falcons, and certainly the philosophies of training with positive reinforcement apply to both. If your a parrot person, or thinking of becoming one you must check out Best in Flock.
“While O’Connor’s examination of falconry frequently borders on the mystical, she also has the rare ability to immerse her reader in the romance of a subject without romanticizing it. For this reason, Lift amounts to a fascinating reading not only for anyone interested in the sport but in stories well told and lives well lived.”
~Marc Schuster, Small Press Reviews, October 26, 2009
Read the whole review here and check out the rest of Marc’s blog for great small press books that you may have missed.
Marc Schuster’s reviews on this blog primarily promote books from small and independent presses. An excellent author in his own right, his reviews are insightful and beautifully composed. Support a small press buy reading Schuster’s blog and finding a worthwhile read. Take a look!
“Liftis a love story. A love story between a human and a falcon. Rebecca loves Anakin. From the first page to last you’re surrounded by her total devotion this wild, winged, predatory creature.”
~Marcia, The Printed Page, October 27, 2009
Read the whole review here and check out the rest of Marcia’s blog for opinions on other books that might pique your interest.
Marcia reviews a variety of adult popular fiction (suspense/thriller/action/mystery), women’s fiction, fiction w/historical aspects, some non-fiction along with travelogues and memoirs. She frequently reviews books on her Kindle and gives reviews as an honest reader. Her site includes a brief review and a recommendation. Take a look!
“Lift is an apt title, for just as her falcon needs it to overcome gravity, the author also had to rise above her own struggles and obstacles. It succeeds as a memoir, interweaving the author’s life story with a captivating narrative of flying a falcon. I would recommend it to those who enjoy an interesting memoir, along with anyone with even a hint of interest in falconry and those who practice it.”
~Grant McCreary, The Birders Library, November 4, 2009
Read the whole review here and if you have an interest in birds and are looking for some books to add to your collection, check out the site to find great reads!
Grant McCreary reviews natural history books, field guides and narratives related to birds and birding. His site gives a synopsis and a review and is chockful of great books for your collection. Go explore the whole site!
“Like the talons of a raptor, the deeply felt words of the memoir dig into the reader and won’t let go.”
~ Dan Barnett, Musable, November 12, 2009
Read the whole review here and follow Musable for other great reviews straight out of the Chico Enterprise Record.
Dan Barnett writes the weekly “Biblio File” book review column for the Chico Enterprise-Record and reposts reviews on his blog. He has been professionally reviewing books for over twenty years and his column focuses on local Northern California writers. If you’re looking for a good read from the North end of the Golden State, check out his blog.
“Thus the book’s narrative twists like a mallard dodging a falcon three feet above the water, human relationships intertwined with bird relationships, hunting trips cut by bitter memories and sweet ones.”
~ Chas Clifton, Southern Rockies Nature Blog, November 16, 2009
Read the whole review hereand follow Chas Clifton’s Nature Blog for his own great writingand perspective.
Chas Clifton is a writer, a professor and a nature enthusiast with a South Rockies perspective. Although not a frequent book reviewer, if you have a love for nature writing his site is a must. See his most recent writings here.
“O’Connor’s choice of working in concert with Anakin seems to mirror her own conscious choice to build a relationship with her mother. And although this metaphor could seem forced, it doesn’t. It simply works and works beautifully. The writing is lyrical and yet somehow spare at the same time.”
~ Kristen, BookNAround, November 18, 2009
Read the whole review hereand follow BookNAround for other great reviews.
Kristen is a mom, a runner and a book lover. She reviews a variety of books and her favorite genres include contemporary/literary fiction, historical fiction, young adult, narrative non-fiction and memoirs. There is a some of all these genres on her blog, each book with a carefully thought out review. Check it out and follow Kristen for some ideas on what to read next!
“Lift by Rebecca O’Connor is a wonderfully written moving memoir that follows the journey of a little girl who gazed upon the beauty of a peregrine falcon that made a chance stop high above her one day and was captivated.”
~ Suzanne, Chick with Books, November 23, 2009
Read the whole review here and follow Chick with Books from some ideas on what to read next.
Suzanne reads a little bit of everything and often highlights memoirs on Memoir Monday. Her blog is very active and along with thoughtful reviews, she often has give aways and author interviews up. Check out her current contests and what she’s reading today!
“For any hunter who’s interested in looking beyond the confines of his or her world, reading this book is a no-brainer. Buy it. You won’t regret it.
~ Holly Heyser, Nor Cal Cazadora, November 25, 2009
Read the whole review here and follow Nor Cal Cazadora for great outdoors and hunting writing.
Holly Heyser is a journalist, a professor, and jumped into hunting feet first with hands to keyboard. Her blog documents the challenges, triumphs and perspective of a woman embracing the world of hunting. Her blog is a great place for hunters and non-hunters alike to consider the natural world and our place in it. See what she’s up to here.
“O’Connor, a Northern California falconer, has written a memoir that pulls together the various strands of her life in the flight of raptors. Fascinated by the peregrine she first encounters as a child, O’Connor eventually becomes an accomplished falconer. But she also pursues her own mother, separated from her by a difficult divorce and a remarriage to a controlling man. Then there’s O’Connor’s wandering youth, including a period as a stripper, which leads her to understand the relationship of prey to predator. O’Connor’s relentless urge for the hunt draws her toward the peregrine—her falcon, Anakin, and yes, he’s named for that Anakin—and toward what she calls the “religion” of falconry, rather than toward her self-acknowledged Jerry Springer-style family. It is a choice to be predator rather than prey, to fly rather than to skitter along the ground.”
~ Kel Munger at the Sacramento News & Review, September 2009
“Novelist and nature reference author O’Connor (Falcon’s Return) crafts a lyrical tribute to the spiritual connection between humans and birds in this memoir of the excruciating, transformative process of training a peregrine falcon: ‘Falconry is a religion, a way of thinking, a means of experiencing life.’ Indeed, readers will find almost as much spiritual content as natural. Despite O’Connor’s icy-clear voice, her descriptions of training a young male falcon are fascinating for bird lovers and civilians alike: ‘when the falcon connects a high-speed dive… the duck remains a piece of the sky and only its body careens to earth.’ Surprisingly, periodic flashbacks to a troubled childhood—an abusive stepfather, an absentee mother—bolster her story rather than distract, turning a falcon’s ‘serious and unmerciful’ eye back on her own life, and discovering inexplicable wells of generosity and forgiveness for the family who wronged her. O’Connor packs a lot of intelligence, poise and feeling into a few pages, making this a consistently rewarding read.”
~ Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, November 2009
“O’Connor worked her way up the ranks from apprentice to master falconer by being both an avid learner and a passionate birder. Nothing prepared her, however, for Anakin, her peregrine falcon, considered the prize hunting animal of the sport. Dismissive of many of the older, crueler ways falconers have used to tame their raptors for centuries, she approaches hers as an equal. Recommended for anyone interested in bird hunting or wildlife, this fascinating memoir makes the occasional misstep when it strays too far from the subject of falconry, but O’Connor’s love of the hawks infuses the story with an addictive, violent intensity.”
~ Library Journal, Booksmack!, November 2009
Without a doubt, the reluctant animal hero of this story is Anakin, a peregrine falcon.
Anakin isn’t the only hero. Rebecca has dedicated much of her life to working with animals and has had some incredible working relationships. However, the ones that always touch you the deepest are with the animals that come into your life to teach you a lesson and then move on. Lift isn’t just about one peregrine. Meet some of the other animals that inspired Lift and turn up the volume so you can hear Rebecca’s touching song.
Want to know more about these animals? Watch this page for their stories and read part of Elektra’s story in the excerpt from Lift below.
Already read Lift. Want more? you can read more of Rebecca’s short essays on falconry and life on her blog Operation Delta Duck under Friday Falconry Flashbacks.
Murrundindi plays the didgeridoo as campfire shadows dance on the canopy of gums above us. His face is striped and spotted with red and white, the face of an Aborigine, one of the last of the Wurundjeri. The deep voice of the instrument, a hollowed eucalyptus branch, weaves through the sacred smoke in a sensual song. There is no melody, but you feel the words with your entire body. It is the voice of a world graced with wings and safe pouches for the young. Even in the darkness you know that you are protected within the song of a didgeridoo.
Murrundindi is performing a grounding ceremony for me because he knows I am having trouble connecting with the land and hunting with my hawk. Hunting with a hawk in Australia is nothing like hunting at home. My heavy-winged American hawk and I had conversations in the field, calling back and forth while we worked the land. The chaparral spoke to me. I could feel when the wind was going to change. I could guess within a day of the next rainstorm. And I often knew when there was a rabbit hidden at my feet.
None of this is obvious in Australia. I feel like I am blindfolded and stumbling through the lower hemisphere and I regret coming here to work at the bird show and rehab strange Australian raptors. I can’t seem to get grounded.
My Australian goshawk and I have a trepid relationship, not unlike any two foreigners speaking different languages. I coax her with food and repetition, calling and whistling my intentions. Yet she mostly ignores my voice, cueing only on my movements through the eucalyptus. Sometimes she flies to my glove for a bite of meat. Often she changes her mind halfway. Sometimes she chases the rabbits running in front of us. Usually, she watches instead. I want her to depend on me to flush her quarry, to believe that I will let her chase it, and to trust me to assist her once she catches it, but I’m failing. The best I can do is to get her to follow me from one branch to another behind and above. She follows so silently that I had to put a bell on her leg to find her in the dense stand of trees. Even then, I sometimes have to close my eyes and concentrate to hear her location.
Murrundindi approached me after I had finished presenting the bird show at the zoo where we were both working. “I watched the show you just did. The birds share your respect for them. You’re something very special,” he said.
“The birds are well trained.” I shook my head and blushed anyway.
“I heard that you are having some trouble connecting with the land.”
I nodded and tried to look austere, angry that I felt like giving in to homesick tears. It was a small thing that should have merely befuddled, not crushed me.
“I can do something about that,” he said and invited me to join him at the bush hut in the Coorinderk that night.
Murrundindi motions for me to join him in front of the fire. Turning my back to the warmth and facing his illuminated features I can see his expression is as warm as the fire, the face paint glowing with the flames. He touches a stone to the ground and speaks in words I can’t understand but struggle to hear just the same.
I recognize the lilt of his voice, a calling to the earth. He presses a stone smooth from water and warm from touch to my forehead. I am dizzy from the smoke and reverberation, but am lifted to my toes and lightly returned to earth, a dancer reaching momentarily for the starlight.
I open my eyes, frightened a little by the rush of blood to my fingers and cheeks. Murrundindi smiles and says a few more staccato words. Then he speaks in English, “Did you feel anything?” I remain silent, uncertain.
“You did. I felt you lift all the way up.” Murrundindi pauses and then says,“ You are already grounded.” We stand with our eyes locked and my heart breaking. There is no helping me. I have all the tools I needed, I just can’t use them. “There’s something else though.” Murrundindi places a friendly hand on my shoulder and bows to meet my eyes a little straighter. “I saw a man, an old man who has left you. Perhaps he has died?”
I chew on my lower lip and sigh. “My grandfather. He died less than a year ago.” He had been the dreamtime master of my childhood, capturing my imagination with tales of wilds and falconry. He had become my hunting confidant as a young adult, listening carefully to my recounting of a perfect hunt and encouraging the respect and education gained from predator and prey. I do miss him.
“He is calling you back home. That is why you are not connecting.” I must still look disappointed because he gives my shoulder a little squeeze. “I have an idea though. You must hunt barefoot.”
“What?” There are three species of snake that live in the bush where I hunt. All three of them could kill me. The only armor I have is jeans and boots. I am about to call him certifiable when he commands, “Listen!” I move my chin with only the slightest sign of agreement, but he continues on. “Run your fingers through the earth and smear it on your face. Take off your shoes and allow the dirt between your toes. Listen. I mean really listen. Not just with your ears. Then walk with your hawk.” He pats me one more time and turns away with a knowing smile. “Let me know how it goes.”
I have to admit the idea of running through the bush barefoot and warrior-striped is ridiculous. I also have to admit I am going to do it anyway, but I don’t need to confess this to anyone.
Fortunately Elektra distrusts other people even more than she distrusts me. If anyone joined the hunt, she headed for the next town over. So there is no one to criticize me when I tie the laces of my boots together and drape them around my neck. I wiggle my toes and fingers in the dirt with embarrassing glee and smear my face unabashedly. If I am bit by a tiger snake, so be it. At least I would be leavingAustralia having given falconry my best shot.
My goshawk doesn’t notice my dirty face and unshod feet. When I pull the hood from her head, she reviews the land and heads for a satisfactory perch without having given me a glance. I take a few careful steps and stop to listen. I hear rainbow lories above me, chattering while they tongue blossoms for taste and sustenance. I glance above me and spot them tumbling through the eucalypts like clowns. The next moment I think I hear the creaking-door sound of a gang-gang cockatoo. I might have, but it is interrupted by a butcher bird callingout its territory. In the distance I see something spreading a path through the tall ferns as it bounds away, probably a wallaby.
My goshawk is several paces in front of me now, waiting with impatience. I join her with less tender steps and our hunt begins in earnest. It is impossible not to notice my boots knocking against my chest, but I like the rhythm they are keeping and we make a steady pace. I begin to look ahead instead of surveying the ground directly below me. There are animals moving before us. I can see small signs of their wake. I have yet to see a rabbit, though, and wonder if the barefoot march is really a waste. Then I hear the didgeridoo.
It is odd to hear such a thing deep in the bush that edges on the vineyards of the wine country. Certainly there wouldn’t be someone near by. The Wurundjeri have long since been rounded up and assimilated. The sound only lasted a moment anyway, so I dismiss it as imagination and move forward again. I take three steps when I hear the unmistakable hum again. This time I know where it is coming from, an old eucalyptus, living but bowing to the earth. I turn behind me to seek out my bird and find affirmation in her tense gaze. It is fixed on the same tree.
My heart beats just a little harder torn between wonder and skepticism, but I head for the tree, a prisoner of my curiosity. Maybe the wind blew through it just right or some animal is singing from its hollow. I am still contemplating the possibilities when at the base of the tree a rabbit springs from my feet.
I don’t have time to yell “ho” to my bird, announcing the race. Elektra is already a wingbeat behind her quarry and then rolling with it through the ferns. I run to help and dive to restrain the kicking rabbit legs. On my belly I try to hold the rabbit and my own body still, casting my eyes down and praying that my goshawk will remain sure. When I finally raise my eyes her beak is dipped in blood. She gives me little notice and returns to her meal. I thank the rabbit and the didgeridoo, carefully jessing up my bird. Her jesses back in and tied to my glove, I sit up and enjoy the results of our first successful hunt.
I return to the flat I share, triumphant, but hold my tongue and the images in my mind. Rinsing my feet and face, I go to bed without a shower, too tired to bother with anything but dreams. In my sleep I dream of home.
I wake in the morning sneezing and coughing. In the bathroom I cough dirt into the sink and wash my face again, perplexed. I blow my nose in a soft wad of toilet paper and wonder at the dirt in my mucus. All morning I cough and sneeze and expel the earth.
My goshawk caught at least a dozen rabbits after that hunt. Sometimes I even knew where they were hiding before they broke for safety. I could hear the land. I miss Australia sometimes, but I like to think I brought back some of it with me.
I’ve been thinking a lot of Murrindindi and the grounding ceremony. I’ve thought about hunting barefoot with Anakin as I struggle to find success hunting with a peregrine, but the ceremony of it seems wrong somehow. I have to be patient. I have to find my own way.
End of Excerpt. —Like it? Order it!