THE RITES OF AUTUMN: A Falconer's Journey Across the American West by Dan O'Brien

THE RITES OF AUTUMN: A Falconer's Journey Across the American West

Email this review


A boy and his dog--only this time it's a man and his falcon--trek from Montana to Texas in this crisp, inviting, oddball twist on the classic ""buddy"" theme, by the novelist of The Spirit of the Hills (p. 149). In 1986, O'Brien finds himself on a rocky ledge in Colorado, releasing four young peregrine falcons raised in captivity into the wild. He watches in horror as a golden eagle snatches three of his charges. O'Brien rescues the fourth, named Dolly, and vows to set her free as best he can. In a simple, sharp voice, he here describes Dolly's peculiar coming-of-age, as man and beast follow the classic migratory route of the peregrine falcon from the high Rockies to the Gulf Coast. Dolly solos, kills ducks and quail and grouse, hides from great horned owls, learns to dive at speeds up to 238 m.p.h. onto her hapless prey. O'Brien intersperses this nifty falcon tale with visits to other falconers (most of whom seem a bit off-base and hover on the fringes of society) and to his own ranch in South Dakota. His descriptions sting: ""The smell of falcons. . .is spicy clean, a mixture of high mountain kinnikinnick, the ocean's salt spray, and the jungles of the Yucatan."" The sentimental mist that gathers here and there disperses entirely with the surprise ending--wherein Dolly slams into a telephone wire on graduation day and becomes fated for a cage, forever. Lots of amazing falcon lore, and although Dolly never develops into a memorable character, O'Brien comes across as a nature writer with a restrained, exact, impressive style.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1988
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown