I’m imagining that I’m going to spin you an enthralling story. It’s going to start with a hook that will convince you keep reading and then transition to a tale that reminds you of something that has happened to you as well.
I’m imagining I’ll say something that will make you laugh. Then I’ll craft this one perfect sentence that will make you pause, think, and rethink something important to you. And after all this brilliant craftwork, I’ll wrap this piece up with a satisfying and profound ending that you will find yourself reading three times. Then sighing with pleasure, you will forward the letter to a friend.
I tell myself little fairy tales like this every time I start a journey. It might be a book, a new hawk, or a romance, but I’m always imagining the ending — the gorgeous glorious ending where all the pitfalls and perils have been obliterated. And as they fade away, credits role across a scene depicting permanent perfection.
Then I shove the daydreams out of my mind. The perfect ending is the enemy. There is no guarantee how this is going to end. It might be disappointing. It might even end in disaster. The only thing you can count on is the journey.
Over the last 22 years, if anything has taught me this, it’s falconry. You have to love the ride. When I pulled Elsa from the nest last June, raised her, and then much as her parents would have done, set her free to explore the world that was born to her, I knew not to count on the ending. Every day she adventured through my neighborhood in the much wilder world at tree level, I knew she was at risk. Everything wild is at risk. Science says that at least 80% of young raptors don’t survive their first foray into the tree line.
Instead, I focused on the process. Every day was gift. Every survived terror was a triumph. I focused on our extensive daily routine, on building a relationship, on shaping behaviors, and on all the utterly foreign language I was learning. I became fluent in Cooper’s hawk and grateful for the joy of foreign love.
But, falconry is cruel mistress and eventually, I did slip. When we were solid partners, ensconced in our comfortable Klingon marriage, I started imagining the future and forgetting the moment. I started thinking the only thing important was the future. Next year was going to be so much better. When our credits rolled it was going to be epic.
And that was when Elsa was killed.
In my experience, there is nothing in my life that cannot be compared to falconry. There is nothing in my life that couldn’t be exponentially better if I treated it with the focus, resolve, and mindfulness that I normally give to falconry. Losing Elsa was every book I’ve written that ever failed me at the end. Losing Elsa was every relationship where I didn’t focus on the joy of the moment and crashed at the end. I had started to dismiss the journey for the ending and now I’m left with small regrets.
However, I also had, in all honesty, one of the most amazing falconry seasons I’ve ever had. I can’t wait for June, to fly Elsa’s sister from another clutch, to do this again, even if the ending tears my heart out. Because the journey is all that you ever get to hold on to. The ending is just a new beginning.