Thursday, 30 January 2014

Let the wind carry you home...

Let the wind carry you home
Blackbird, fly away
May you never be broken again.
Beyond the suffering you've known
I hope you find your way
May you never be broken again.

Blackbird - Alter Bridge

I'm sure many of my readers have pets of some description, and I'm sure many more have heard about therapy animals and that sort of thing. Whilst having never experienced the official thing, I've always been a firm believer in the fact that animals are often very soothing and make for wonderful companionship.

For some background, I grew up with a German Shepherd. He was six months older than I was and despite the fearsome reputation of the breed he was a true gentle giant. Whilst he pulled my Dad's arm from his socket on walks, when I was given the lead he walked as quietly as a lamb, and in the end he reached the ripe old age of 13 (excellent going for a pedigree Shepherd).

Now, as you all know I have a cat. Or should I say I am part of the staff of a cat - the more years I spend with her I become further convinced that nobody truly owns a cat except the cat in question.

(Whimsical, independent and partial to the occasional RPG)

Despite the fact going out, driving and the like is essentially tiring and a recipe for flares, fatigue and frustration when I do get out one of my principle loves is to visit animal centres. When I was younger our family holidays were mostly in Devon, staying on a farm and day tripping about. Two things were always on the itinerary - heavy horses and birds of prey.

I've spoken before about having to give up horse riding, first for financial reasons but once the finances were back in place I started to suffer with ill health, and with the joint problems and diagnosis of Fibromyalgia my last few hopes were set aside. At the end of the day even on the quietest of school masters the very nature of horse riding puts tremendous pressure through the joints, particularly in the back and legs. Given my knees and hips in particular are terrible, it would be beyond stupid for me to try and return to the sport. However, I've always loved horses and they are wonderful animals to spend time around even when participating in riding isn't an option. They're intelligent, sociable and I find their presence very soothing. Donkeys have a similar effect - they may not be anywhere near as pretty but I've always found them very calming.

Birds of prey however? Now they are something still well within my power to fully enjoy.

Before Christmas a friend spotted the York Bird of Prey Centre* on a Groupon offer - their hawk walks and half day falconry experiences were reduced by 60% in price. I'd visited the centre earlier in the year and had been very impressed by their healthy and happy birds, and in particular their adherence to the art of falconry as it would have been in medieval Britain - no tagging, no telemetry and no gadgets, just pure training and handling time with their array of birds. Needless to say, we snapped up the opportunity.

(Shadow the Golden Eagle. Clearly finding me nowhere near as interesting as I found him....)

Last week we went for our booked in half day experience, only to be met with typically British weather. Rather than being sent away and told to rearrange, the centre put on something of an ad-hoc afternoon of talks about some of their various birds which included the chance to handle them for the whole group - including to our surprise their stunning Golden Eagle. As I said above I've been going to falconry centres since my childhood, and I don't know of another with one of these magnificent birds which is suitable to be handled. Whilst the opportunity was a wonderful thing, the staff and volunteers did not shy away from the fact the eagle is a fearsome predator, dangerous not only because of its power (2000 PSI of pressure per foot, no less) but also for its intelligence. It provides an instant mixture of awe and fear to be told the bird on the end of your arm can hear your jugular vein. Ick.

We also had the opportunity to hold a Barn Owl, a Red-tailed Hawk, a European Eagle Owl and a Peregrine Falcon, which I think is still probably my favourite bird of prey. If you ever have the chance to watch a Peregrine working on a lure I recommend you take it as you are in for quite a treat.

So how was I after this trip?

Extremely sore. As beautiful as he was, holding a 10 pound bird on my weaker arm was never going to amount to anything but an unhappy shoulder. Despite spending most of the day sitting my hips and knees were as they always are and I was absolutely exhausted.

The situation wasn't helped by driving our courtesy car (I had a minor bump a couple of weeks ago) - it was the new model Fiesta and I hated it. Disproportionately heavy to drive and the ride was very uncomfortable - it almost felt like being back in my old Ka. Long live the Tardis car!

(Tardis car....  from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous, the oncoming storm, the bringer of darkness.... and it's basically just a Hyundai i10 isn't it?)

However, nearly four hours with a group of incredibly knowledgeable people and the chance to get up close and personal with utterly beautiful animals? I could never question the fact it was totally worth it.

A conclusion I'm coming to in general is that some things are more important than the pain and fatigue. The enjoyment gained from some experiences outweighs the resultant reaction of my crooked immune system. For me, animals of all kinds are a wonderful distraction and have been a burning interest of mine for as long as I can remember. I visited Chester Zoo last year and I felt the day of walking round it for a good few weeks afterwards, but again it was completely worth it.

My advice? Find the things that work for you and take every opportunity you can to engage in them. It doesn't matter if it's relatively infrequently - once is always going to be better than nothing.

Some things are more important than pain and exhaustion.

I for one am incredibly grateful for that.

Wishing you many spoons xxx

*For anyone who is interested, the York Bird of Prey Centre lives here

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