LEARNING TO FLY: A Season with the Peregrine Falcon by P.H. Liotta

LEARNING TO FLY: A Season with the Peregrine Falcon

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. . .and with his master,"" the subtitle should read, for this lyrical, wide-ranging work covers the flights of men as often as those of birds, with Liotta intertwining two tales--one of his vocation as an Air Force pilot, the other of his avocation as an avid falconer. Liotta's story pivots around a summer he spent as a graduate student working for the Peregrine Fund on an eight-week project in the Adirondacks, reintroducing raptorial birds to their natural home. During this stretch he read Chaucer, befriended squirrels, rode out an Olympian thunderstorm, and discovered a craving for solitude that links him with the falcon, ""exceptional, solitary, and unlike any other species."" Leaping back and forth in time (the chronology is sometimes hard to sort out), the author cuts to memories of other raptorial birds, especially Aragorn, his ferocious pet at the Air Force Academy. He passes on startling falcon lore--they can spot a mouse from a mile and a half away--along with horrifying tales of airplane crashes that speak obscurely of a dangerous and tenuous relationship between wingless humans and the aerie heights. He's at his best comparing falcons to jets (the organic flying machine seems infinitely superior) or pondering the appeal of these ""emotionless"" birds whose ""very being is meant to destroy."" Finally, birds, planes, wilderness coalesce into a somewhat gooey spiritual insight: ""Eternity means nothing if its awe is not surviving in the here or now--the now/here of nowhere."" Less cohesive, but more unusual and daring than Dan O'Brien's The Rites of August (1988), which also focuses on the release of peregrine fledglings into the wild. A promising debut.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1989
Publisher: Algonquin