Monday, May 08, 2006

Eagle Dreams

I recently finished Steven Bodio's book Eagle Dreams: Looking for Legends in Wild Mongolia. It is, at once, a book about falconry, deep tradition of the pastoral peoples of northwestern Mongolia and southern Kazakhstan, travelogue, and reflection on the depth and differences from a culture lovingly birthed over millennia and in opposition to our own petrie dish conceptions, new off the show lot sparkle of the right and proper path of the human condition.

Bodio is a naturalist with a romantic's soul and the early parts of this book on hunting and the somewhat esoteric world of falconry are suitably fascinating, the narrative tailing off a bit towards the middle when he lulls into more a straightforward travel writing tone. I persisted through the minutia of what exists on numerous menus in Ulan Bataar and got to the meat, the reason Bodio was traveling to these outer reaches in the first place: a chronicle of the peoples who still hold to the ancient (and yes, they are literally ancient) art of hunting with falcons and golden eagles. It's these people, stereotypical sometimes, in flowing colorful nomadic costume, resplendent with glorious feathers, craggy, weather worn faces, dark eyes holding the mysterious secrets of a life lived on and with the steppe. And yet, they are real faces, not caricatures, not an act put on for the industrial tourist, but humans upholding and disseminating the code of a primal part of all us. Bodio does a masterful job of taking us into this world while at the same time not romantically lapsing into voyeuristic complacency. And then we have the birds themselves. Their concerts with their human counterparts, maybe the real story needing to be felt:

"An eagle's perception of its own life might be of a bright eternal present, like a carnivorous Buddhist’s--confident, centered, and watchful, with a dimmer past and no thought of the future. If she thought of us at all, she might think that we crawl on the earth, eating dirt and sticks, killing from afar with a loud noise if we manage to see prey at all. If she could speak, she might say, 'I hold creation in my foot/or fly up, and revolve it all slowly--I kill where I please because it is all mine--Nothing has changed since I began."

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