Knowledge and Knowing

I am living and breathing photography and raptors in the most surreal way this week.  In the moments I haven’t been doing my day job, I have been preparing for a workshop I’m giving on Sunday to raise money for an organization I volunteer for.  We’re calling it:  Raptography, a Personal Encounter with Birds of Prey and Photography Workshop.

My partner in this workshop, Dale, the bird expert extraordinaire from Wings to Soar, came up with the name as a joke, but I really liked it.  It sums up the workshop well–assuming you know that the family name for birds of prey is Raptors.

Preparing for a workshop involves taking my material, running through it, reorganizing it, supplementing it, researching participants’ cameras to figure out what features and settings will apply for them, and practicing what I want to say to see if I can actually get it all in in the allotted time.

While this is all fun for me, the surreal aspect comes in that I am preparing to teach by reading, writing, creating charts, and finding example images to use.  One would think the way to prepare for teaching photography and bird handling would be to do photography and bird handling.

This leads me to think about the balance of learning something in your head and knowing it in your body.  For example, if you asked me to show you which button I use to focus, I’d have to hold my camera up and start focusing, then look at which button my thumb is pressing (I use a different button to focus from the shutter button) to tell you.  I know this in my body, but I’ve forgotten it in my head because once I knew it in my thumb, I no longer needed to be able to recall that information verbally.

However, in order to teach someone else how to use that same button for focus, I suddenly have to be able to verbalize what my thumb has learned to do instinctively.  The process of breaking down what you know in your body into an organizational structure that can be verbalized and explained to others is fascinating to me.  For one, it forces me to actually know what choices I make and then articulate why I’m making them.  In the process, I’ve discovered some things I wanted to do differently from what I was actually doing.

I have often pondered the old insult, “those who can’t do teach.”  I have wondered if perhaps this is a truer version:  “those who are spending their time figuring out what they are doing to the extent that they can explain it to someone else are spending less time actually doing it.”

In spending less time doing something, the end result is having less knowing-in -your-body and more knowledge in your head compared to someone who just does it.  The question is:  how much of each do you need to be really good at what you do?


Speaking Owl

Artie looking very happy on Horst's glove

Artie looking very happy on Horst’s glove

Note:  my husband is once again the guest photographer for all photos of the Raptor Experience, including in yesterday’s post.

One of the great pleasures in life is sharing something you love with someone who enjoys the experience.  Think about it.  While on the one hand, we might respect that everyone has different tastes, there is something in human nature that causes us to gravitate towards people who appreciate the same things we appreciate.  And introducing someone to something that’s a personal favorite makes for a particularly enjoyable experience.  It’s like discovering a new food that makes you want to groan when you put it in your mouth and finding out that someone else has the exact same reaction–it’s something in common, creating a tiny bond.

Elvi speaks owl fluently

Elvi speaks owl fluently

I think that’s why I enjoy volunteering for Wings to Soar so much.  There aren’t many people who don’t enjoy getting up close to birds of prey.  There are a few.  I recently met someone who is terrified of birds–probably not a great idea to introduce her to the raptors.  But most people are pretty fascinated by getting to see a creature up close that they normally only get to see soaring overhead or perched high above.

Me assisting in the background in my Cayce-protecting boots

Me assisting in the background in my Cayce-protecting boots

It’s interesting how this interest crosses cultures and language.  I may not be bilingual, but I’m pretty sure the owls are.  They seem to recognize their admirers in any language.

Artie, the Barred Owl, hopped on Horst and Elvi’s gloves and immediately settled down and looked content.  he wasn’t the least concerned about what language they spoke–as far as he was concerned, they spoke owl.

Theo hopping over to Horst's glove

Theo hopping over to Horst’s glove

Theo, the Barn Owl, however, might have been a little too settled–he was content to ride over to Elvi and Horst when we were hoping he would fly.  He sat on the perch and stared, occasionally acting like he was going to fly, but then waited patiently for Dale to come over and put him on her glove.  Dale walked Theo closer to Elvi and Horst in turn, trying to get Theo to a distance from which he would fly.  Theo looked longingly at the tasty piece of mouse on the destination glove, but he wouldn’t fly to it.  When Dale put her glove next to Horst or Elvi’s glove, he happily hopped over to their glove and munched contentedly.  He seemed perfectly happy; he just didn’t feel like flying.

Theo happy to join Elvi

Theo happy to join Elvi

Theo is a human imprint–he was raised by humans and doesn’t really understand he’s an owl.  I sometimes wonder if his reluctance to fly is because he identifies so much with humans, he starts to think it’s unnecessary.  But, then there are days when Theo doesn’t seem to want to sit on a glove at all.  He baits and baits and can’t seem to stay still.  I don’t know if it was the calming influence of Horst and Elvi, but I think he would have sat all day.

The 3-gloved approach

The 3-gloved approach

That Hawk Don’t Hunt

Screeching to a mid-air halt, Cody prepares to land gently on the glove

Screeching to a mid-air halt, Cody prepares to land gently on the glove

While training Cody on Saturday, one of the things I realized was that I had lost my healthy respect for the fierceness of his talons.  I was holding Cody on my glove when it suddenly struck me, “Oh yeah!  He has incredibly strong grip strength and really sharp talons on those feet!”  It was as if I had completely forgotten that raptors can accidentally injure their handlers pretty easily if said handler isn’t paying attention.

Mid-air ascent--after riding the ground effect, Cody rises to the height of the glove

Mid-air ascent–after riding the ground effect, Cody rises to the height of the glove

Fortunately for me, Cody and the other raptors I get to work with are accommodating and don’t intentionally try to harm people.  Perhaps even more fortunately, the realization struck me as Cody was working his way up my arm, but in time for me to adjust so he headed back out toward my hand and away from the end of my glove.  I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have one stray talon sink into the soft part of my arm–I’d like to keep it that way.

Ground effect--Cody floats on the bubble of air close to the ground

Ground effect–Cody floats on the bubble of air close to the ground

Having recalled the inherent danger in handling raptors, I stayed a bit more on my toes as we flew Cody.  Cody is about as sweet as it gets for a Red-tailed Hawk.  He ended up in captivity after being found starving.  He was taken to a falconer for rehabilitation.  The falconer attempted to teach him to hunt, but no matter what prey he encountered, he wasn’t interested in hunting.

Coming in for a landing--Cody touches down

Coming in for a landing–Cody touches down

Cody’s story reminds me of a story from my childhood about a bull named Ferdinand.  Ferdinand wanted to sit in the pasture enjoying butterflies and flowers rather than fight with bull fighters.  I don’t remember how the story ended exactly, but given that it was a favorite of mine, I would guess Ferdinand ended up happily wiling away the days in a pasture where he could be his gentle self.

Another float into the finish--I love the way Cody flares to a stop before landing on the glove

Another float into the finish–I love the way Cody flares to a stop before landing on the glove

This also parallels Cody’s story.  While Cody may not be interested in killing rodents, he’s happy to hang with the people who care for him.  He watches attentively as we work with him.  He seems curious–he clearly knows his usual training routine has been changed.  I suspect he remembers me, but I can’t offer any evidence that this is true.  He looks at me like he finds me interesting, but he doesn’t seem upset by my participation in the training process.

This is a back-view of Cody flaring to a stop

This is a back-view of Cody flaring to a stop

We fly Cody for a while and then Dale flies him without me so I can see if I can get some good shots of Cody in flight.  Cody is naturally photogenic.  Of all the birds, he’s the one I always end up with a bunch of great shots each time I shoot the birds.  However, he’s looking slightly less well groomed on this particular day.  He seems to have molted one of his tail feathers.  Almost like a missing tooth in the middle of a bright white, well cared for smile, the gap is hard to miss.

After the flare, Cody uses any remaining momentum to float gently to the glove

After the flare, Cody uses any remaining momentum to float gently to the glove

We try not to stare–no point in making Cody feel self-conscious.

This is Tisen's idea of "flare"

This is Tisen’s idea of “flare”

Fresh Eyes

One of the things that my husband and I usually miss out on is experiencing life through a child’s eyes.  This is the consequence of not having children and not usually being around children.  While there are many great reasons not to have children and we have no regrets about that decision, there are times when it’s nice to borrow the perspective of someone else’s child.

Having been to Rock City only for the birds of prey show (which is FABULOUS), it was cool that a visit from some friends who have a 4 year old gave us the opportunity to revisit the place.

We discovered a lot of things we’d missed the first time.  Because that little guy had more energy than I’ve had in a long, long time, making sure we pointed out every possible source of amusement became our passion.  This forced us to notice everything.

For one thing, there is a “Fat Man’s Squeeze.”  Granted, there are many places in the world with a “Fat Man’s Squeeze,”  but watching a four year old creep his way through the tight quarters made this one extra special.

We also noticed the waterfall in a whole new way.  We’d never noticed you could see it from the road.  With a four year old in the back seat, we quickly discovered a whole new view.  He was so excited that we were going that waterfall!  I had to pause and take a new look at how spectacular it really is.

Then there was the rock climbing wall.  Our four year old friend wasn’t big enough to climb, but he sure was excited by his mom’s decision to climb!  We hung around cheering for the other climbers while we waited for his mom’s turn.  I like wall climbing, but I was feeling too hot and sticky to want to attempt it myself.  As a spectator,  I found myself watching novice wall climbers and not just clapping politely for them but really feeling the need for them to make it to the top.  It was pretty inspiring to watch.  Albeit, our four year old friend lost interest about the time his mom made it to the top, but we were fascinated to stay and watch a young girl climb.

Finally, of course, we went to the birds of prey show.  I shot with a wide angle lens trying to include the audience because I wanted to capture the four year old’s reactions.  I admit I was a little disappointed that he often seemed more interested in the gravel under his feet than the birds, but every once in a while he’d look up with curiosity and even a hint of amazement.  But maybe you have to be an adult to realize how special it is to be that close to a bird of prey?

All in all, going to Rock City with a kid made the place feel like a brand new adventure.  Now I can’t wait to go again!


Birdie, You’re a Star

Continuing the theme of birds, on Sunday, I had the opportunity to go to Rock City, a local attraction on Lookout Mountain, to see the S.O.A.R. raptors perform.

S.O.A.R. performs regularly at Rock City throughout the warmer months, educating the public about the role raptors play in the ecosystem and giving people a close encounter with birds of prey.

I’d never seen the S.O.A.R. program before, so I plan to watch it twice. I’m hoping to collect enough photos to put together a screen saver we can use to raise money for the program.

One of the unique things about Rock City is that dogs are welcome. Unfortunately, dogs make birds of prey (and really, most birds) quite nervous, so while they are welcome in Rock City in general, they are not permitted in the vicinity of the bird program.  This meant that while Tisen got to come with us, he had to be escorted away from the vicinity of the performance before the show.  So, both Pat and Tisen missed out.

My goal for the first run was to learn the pattern of what they did so I could do a better job getting shots of the birds in flight during the second performance.  However, it’s almost impossible to sit with your camera in your lap and not shoot a single frame when you’re surrounded by super stars!

The performance is in a nice amphitheater large enough to accommodate probably 100 people.  It’s small enough to create an intimate setting.  It also makes it possible for Dale and John to walk through the entire audience with the birds, giving people an up-close view.  And, if walking around with the birds isn’t exciting enough, they fly a barn owl, Theo, a red-tail hawk, Cody, and a black vulture, Cayce, right over people’s heads.

While the birds are busy capturing the audience’s interest, John and Dale sneak in an enormous amount of information about the birds.  Between the live birds and several videos, people witness incredible feats that only birds of prey can perform.  And while it’s one thing to see a video of a Peregrine Falcon pulling in his wings to achieve a dive of over 250 MPH, it’s completely another to feel the wind from a raptor’s wings as it soars just above your head.

The thing that I really like about John and Dale’s approach is that they are serious about raising awareness about the importance of these birds to the highly interconnected network of life we are part of.  At the same time, they understand that to raise awareness, you have to get someone’s attention first.  And there is no one, I contend no one, who can fail to be fascinated by the kind of close encounter John and Dale provide.  If having a bird soar over your head doesn’t do it for you, petting a Screech Owl after the show probably will.

These birds have a special skill at attracting attention and keeping it.