No Way But Gentlenesse: A Memoir of How Kes, My Kestrel, Changed My Life
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There is no way but gentlenesse to redeeme a Hawke.
--Edmund Bert, 1619
Born and raised in the South Yorkshire mining village of Hoyland Common, Richard Hines remembers sliding down heaps of coal dust, hearing whispers of "accidents" in the pit, listening for the siren at the end of mine shifts, and praying for his father's safe return. At age eleven, Richard's prospects suddenly dimmed when he failed the trials for English Grammar School, though his older brother Barry, evidently their mother's favorite, had passed and seemed headed for great things.
Crushed by a system that swiftly and permanently decided that some children do not merit a real education, and persecuted by the cruel antics of his English schoolteachers, Richard spent his time in the fields and meadows just beyond the colliery slag heap. One morning, walking on the grounds of a ruined medieval manor, he came across a nest of kestrels. Instantly captivated but without a role model to learn from, he sought out ancient falconry texts from the local library and pored over the strange and beautiful language there. With just these books, some ingenuity, and his profound respect for the hawk's indomitable wildness, Richard learned to "man" or train his kestrel, Kes, and in the process became a man himself.
No Way But Gentlenesse is a breathtaking memoir of one remarkable boy's love for a culture lost to time, and his attempt to find salvation in the natural world.
to the glove, I took a recently shot sparrow out of my falconer’s bag, held it between my gloved fingers, and let her pluck and cast away the sparrow’s breast feathers. As we headed back across the fields to the mews, she began tearing into the deep red breast meat. Each morning before work, or at weekends, I called at the mews to check on Kes. This morning, the gate into the garden from the field had been left open and a lovely black and white calf stood on the lawn. Skirting around the calf,
asked Barry about it. Looking embarrassed, he admitted, thinking only one hawk would be needed for the film he’d rashly told Tony he’d be able to train the kestrel. I was astounded. Barry had read T. H. White’s The Goshawk, and he’d watched me train my kestrels and had borrowed my copy of A Manual of Falconry while writing his novel. But he’d never trained a kestrel; he hadn’t even held a hawk on his glove until filming began. How he could have believed he’d be capable of training even one hawk
David. Even if I’d been in a better frame of mind, I don’t think I’d have been able to give him advice on how to respond to Hardy’s tactics. He had done well. Earlier he’d flown Freeman marvellously but he hadn’t had enough practice to fly Hardy when she was in this mood. If Hardy continued curving upwards into an awkward position directly above his head, and then plunging on to the lure in a vertical stoop, all her training would have come to nothing. It was beginning to look as if only the
our daughter Katie was born in Barnsley hospital at 4.15 a.m. Just as I had when John had been born, unable to contain my delight I walked all the way home smiling. On this beautiful morning there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the woods were full of bluebells. By the time of Katie’s birth I had become deputy head of a junior school in another part of Doncaster. I enjoyed my job and planned to eventually apply for headships. Then, just as my youthful obsession with hawks had led to me working as a
you needed to make sure the skin on your hand was loose. Thumb tucked behind my first finger, skin nice and loose on my palm, I stood with my hand raised, steeling myself for the first blow. It didn’t come. I looked at Ben. He had the cane raised but he was shaking his head as if he couldn’t make up his mind whether to thrash me or let me off. Then he stopped shaking his head and looked at me angrily. ‘You’ve got intelligence, boy,’ he said, ‘but it’s not human intelligence.’ Swish. Swish.