Reading The Goshawk was a first for me. I have read memoirs before, but The Goshawk was the first time I read a memoir about a man’s feral companion(s).
T. H. White is known for his Arthurian novels; The Once and Future King. But before he made his mark in the literary world, T. H. White had been the owner of a young goshawk named Gos. At the time he acquired Gos, T. H. White had only had hundred pounds in the world, so it had seemed it would be best for him to write about what he was interested in, which was Gos. 🙂
Being an austringer is not an easy task. (Goshawk is the largest European short-winged hawk species, and a keeper of short-winged hawks is called an austringer. A falconer is a keeper of long-winged hawks.) In the book, T. H. White comes off as a stubborn man who likes challenges, which might have driven him to choose this pursuit. But over the course of few weeks, T. H. White realizes how “devilishly hard” Goshawks are to train. It is like T. H. White met his match in Gos when it comes to stubbornness!
When T. H. White’s troubles with Gos kept mounting I was not surprised. White was using outdated material published in the 1600s to train a hawk in 1937! But his accounts are quite candid, even when he was failing. For instance, the first step in hawk-training is “manning”, an attempt to get the hawk accustomed to its keeper in all its activities. Unaware of the streamlined training method that would have made “manning” much easier, T. H. White follows a method called “watching.” “Watching” requires the keeper to keep the hawk on his/her outstretched hand day and night without falling asleep, until the hawk finally falls asleep on its human perch, establishing its trust on its keeper. “Watching” can take anything up to one to nine days, and in White’s case, it was three days awake tormenting himself alongside Gos! T. H. White’s sincere descriptions of his ordeals made The Goshawk a compelling read for me.
The Goshawk is not a book for experienced falconers – the book is clearly amateur hour. But is a good story about a man’s (imperfect) relationship with a bird.