On pilgrimages, birds, and planetary events • About 5 minutes reading time
Hope you’ve been doing well these days– happy belated solstice! It’s been a while since I wrote. We’re already halfway through 2022, can you believe it. I wanted to share some thoughts on my recent move, the birds I’ve been feeling kinship with, and the significance of this time of year.
When thinking about what I wanted to do this year I felt like I had let myself down, but in actuality when I look at it rationally I have made steps towards these things. I haven’t done as much artwork as I had wanted (when have I ever?), but I have been doing some creative experiments and thinking (lots on sundials and vultures). I wrote some proposals, most of which I haven’t heard back from, but I am excited to share that I’ll be one of the residents part of the Roundtable Residency this year beginning in July.
I’ve also recently moved to a new apartment, which I’m very pleased about, especially as it actually has a room that I can use as a studio space. It feels like such a luxury, and I’m so excited– and committed– to make use of it.
I had moved back in with my parents at the start of the pandemic, which happened to coincide with both the end of my lease in Toronto as well as the start of a residency in Hamilton at Factory Media Centre. It seemed the sensible thing to do– I was able to save money, I spent lockdown with family and our relationship survived– but I kept thinking it was temporary. A few months, then six, then a year. Then the next year, because the pandemic still wasn’t over, and I still didn’t know where I was going other than to teach another semester at Sheridan. And then it started to feel like I needed a ‘good’ reason to move out– and just wanting to wasn’t enough of one. The decision became attached to other big things in my life, like job and future school prospects and savings. Definitely, where you live does effect those things, but because I didn’t have answers to those things they felt debilitating. Have you experienced that?
In April I booked a flight and went to Halifax. The last time I had traveled was in 2019, when I went to New York for SFPC. Traveling was good– it knocked me out of my routine. And when I came back I decided that I couldn’t wait anymore, I had to make a choice and go. But it didn’t need to be all done at once. I could make them up as I go– and even change my mind later.
Around a month ago my Mum began getting interested in and later volunteering with the Hamilton Community Peregrine Project. Every year since 1995 pairs of falcons have made their nest on the Sheraton Hotel’s 18th floor, right downtown Hamilton. From the webcams you can see live updates of the nest, the parent’s coming and going, and eventually the chicks hatching. The History page reads like a multi-generational melodrama:
In January 2001 came the sad news that Toledo had been killed in a collision with a car two months earlier. Since there had been a female falcon around over the early part of the winter, Hamilton Falcon Watchers set out to learn the identity of the new female, named ‘Madame X’…
…a new male arrived. He was quickly identified as Judson, fledged in 2018 from the Richardson Complex in Buffalo, New York. In a delightful turn of events, we discovered that one of his parents was Felker, who fledged from Hamilton in 2012! The prodigal (grand)son of Madame X and Surge had returned.
This year there are four: Balfour, Dundurn, Wynnstay, and Auchbar. After five weeks they lost their fluffy white down, and began preparing for their first flight, flapping their wings and catching the wind. Meanwhile below, a rotating shift of volunteers observed them from street level. They were there in order to catch the chicks should they fall on their first attempt to fly. And after three successful fledges, one did fall.
Auchbar landed in the middle of the sidewalk at 3pm of a busy workday. The volunteer rushed over and manged to throw a blanket on her, then into the box she went. After a trip to emergency she was released near to the nest, and allowed to try again. And again.
Peregrines are known for their incredible speeds and diving ‘stoops’ that they use to hunt. They’re found all around the world, in both extreme wildernesses as well as thriving in urban centres. The only other bird with such range is the common pigeon, which were “widely introduced by humans…which in turn now supports many peregrine populations as a prey species” (Wiki). I find it interesting how push and pull human’s relationship with these birds are. The creation of urban centres potentially disrupting previous ecosystems, yet the design of skyscrapers (like the Sheraton building) mimicked cliff ledges used for nesting. Then the introduction of pesticides, particularly DDT in the fifties and later, caused peregrine populations to decline and in 1978 were declared endangered in Canada. Recovery efforts were made, successfully, including restrictions on pesticide use. Peregrine populations began to rise again and in 2017 were declared no longer at risk.
But The Hamilton Falcon Watchers’ continue to help during a critical point in the falcons’ life: their first flights, which are “often unsuccessful, ending on the street… and quite often they don’t have the wing strength to take off from the ground.” What would passerby’s have done, had a Peregrine Falcon chick landed in the middle of the sidewalk at 3pm, had a volunteer not been there?
I admire Auchmar’s resiliency. She had to try twice to manage her first flight. She’s still working at it, they all are. But there’s no ego there, no thoughts of future concerns or consequences. She had to to fly, so she did it. And did it again. And I admire the volunteers’ for their commitment to these birds’ survival.
The name peregrine comes from Medieval Latin, meaning ‘pilgrim falcon’. “Medieval falconers who wanted young peregrine falcons to train had to capture them on their first flights or migratory ‘pilgrimages.’ That practice led to a new sense of ‘peregrine’ (‘engaged in or traveling on a pilgrimage’), which was later broadened to ‘wandering.’” (Merriam-Webster)
For all of planet Earth’s inhabitants on our collective pilgrimage around the sun last week was the summer solstice, the longest day(light) of the year. Due to the tilt of Earth’s axis the sun reached its highest visible point in the sky. Coincidentally (as they are not actually related) we’re coming up to the day when we are the closest to the sun this year, July 4th, the perihelion. Our orbital path around the sun is nearly but not quite perfectly circular (and slowly expanding). It’s more like an egg, and that’s why there are apsides to every orbit, both nearest and farthest points. Our regular blistering 30 km/second orbit even speeds up just a touch and slows down at these respective times.
Day by day, it can seem like we’re advancing in a uniform rate, step by step. Sometimes life can be grueling in that way, repetitive yet advancing onward with or without you like a slowly moving infinite treadmill. But I’m noticing that in many things progression isn’t a straight line, but maybe more of a curve. After the winter solstice we slowly eased out of long, long nights, our sunsets picking up speed as they went later and later, then graduating in smaller and smaller increments. You can see these curves in the solargraph above, the easing in and out of highs and lows. In our current moment, we’re on the edge of the parabola.
What does it feel like to be on the edge of the parabola? As of June 21 we’re slowly sliding downwards. Yet on our orbital path we’re just cresting the perihelion. What other areas of our lives could be charted on a curve, and where would the leading edge lie? Are we in the cradle of the curve, slow and comfortable? Or are we on the slow plodding uphill track, feeling like we’re not getting anywhere yet unknowingly gaining momentum? I think of Auchbar’s multiple descents, and how glorious her first stoop will be.
🦅 ☀️ Katherine
🎥 : The Son of the White Mare, available on Kanopy if you’re part of the HPL or TPL
📺 : Fleabag, 😚👌
📘 : Beautiful World Where are You, by Sally Rooney– this has really stayed with me.