Friday, November 11, 2011

Fire and Ice

We've all been cold before. Sometimes, especially on a blue sky, crisp day, it's invigorating. Recently I was thinking about what it is like to be really cold. Mind-numbingly, bone-chillingly cold. So cold, that you can't think straight, can't concentrate, can't hold a thought in your head. I can acutely remember this feeling from Mongolia. In January and February, the temperatures plummet. Those months make November and December seem like pleasantly cool months. I know for sure that, during the day, it was as cold as -35 degrees Celsius. It is not so bad if you walking or running, but siting on a horse the pain soon starts to creep in. It starts in my feet. There is minimal movement in your feet when riding horses at slow paces up mountainsides. I loose feeling in my toes until my foot feels like one pained brick. Then I feel it in my left hand. To have the dexterity to continually operate reigns, jesses, leads, and handle meat - you sacrifice the warmth of a mit. If I've had to retrieve my eagle from deep snow, sometimes the snow creeps into the layers of my clothing, like sand. Then my head starts to throb. When the wind batters you from your vantage point on top of the mountain, even with several layers of insulating head protection and a fox fur hat, the cold can seep in. I can only think to call it "cold headaches". This doesn't affect me every time I head for the mountains in the new year, but sometimes. Especially if I've been chasing foxes all day, and I suddenly find myself under the mountain's lengthening shadows or watching the sun sink beneath the horizon. This pained state of cold can surprise you.

I remember sitting on top of a mountain, white all around me, hooded eagle in hand. It was one of those days. The sun had gone and I was utterly cold. Frigid. I sat still for twenty minutes on the mountaintop while the valley below was worked, waiting for a potential slip. It was twenty minutes of squinting into white nothingness and feeling nothing. Waiting for the slip isn't a relaxed state. You must be primed for action. Ready to spring into life at a moment's notice - to send the eagle on its way, in an advantageous manner, and gallop to its assistance. Keeping my body and mind coiled in the cold nothingness is exhausting.  

Then, like a warm flame - the fox appears and runs. He is the only sign of life in the barren snowscape and his electricity is contagious. Almost immediately, I shed the layer of suffocating cold. The surge of adrenaline, the quick, powerful wingbeats of the eagle, and the artful dodging of the fox spur me on. I speed on my horse through the snow with sudden concentration, and yet I'm also up there with the eagle. 

I can tell you that in this picture, I wasn't cold in the slightest. I only remember being happy. It's the power of falconry. The power of doing something that you love.

No comments: