Voices from the river

Voices from the River: The falcon, part 1

By Shauna Stephenson

The check arrived in the mail unannounced. With it, a letter from my grandmother.

Set a goal, it said. Work hard. Use this money to reach that goal.

There were no other stipulations.

At the bottom was a photo of her and my grandfather — Papa we called him — at the base of the ski jump they were building for the Olympics in Norway, both younger, happy, smiling.

When my grandmother was young, she dreamed of being a flight attendant and traveling the world. She was on her way out the door to do exactly that when my grandfather asked her to marry him. It was the 50s. She stayed, raised four kids and eventually went to teach elementary school.

But that desire to travel never left her. Despite being a full-time mom, a teacher and running a farm, she and my grandfather found ways to travel.

It’s a subtle heroism, I think, to continue to pursue the thread in life that makes you … you, despite all the other demands and expectations. She could have given it up. But she pressed on. Australia, Europe, China. Years later after my grandfather passed away from leukemia, she continued her quest on her own.

“Travel helped me learn about the world,” she said.

And now she was asking her grandchildren to do the same: Find a passion. Commit. Learn something. Report back.

I found falconry by way of fly fishing. Masochism runs deep in both the difference being while most sportsmen find a time to hang up a rod or put away a gun, my weapon of choice prefers to come in my house, leer at my cat and crap on my floor. If there’s anything more elitist or maddening than fly fishing, it’s falconry. That said both are puzzles filled with hidden clues. Both unlock a whole world an unattentive eye would miss.

By most measures I wasn’t exactly in the proper place to take on another bird. It takes scads of time to do right and with two young children, a full-time job and a small ranch that needed constant care, time wasn’t something I had in excess. After completing the first intense year of a required two-year apprenticeship, I had been pursuing my next bird when I could, resigning myself to the depressing fact that it would have to wait or worse, be forgotten.

“You can have it all,” my mother used to say. “Just not all at the same time.”

But then came the letter.

Responsible mothers would send their children to college, I told myself. They would use it to pay off part of the mortgage or squirrel it away for the day the car quit or countertops needed replaced.

But then again, you can’t truly experience the world if you’re stuck behind the kitchen counter. Surely this was a conversation my grandmother had also had with herself.

So, a few months later, in an act inspired by her quiet pursuit of self, despite mountains of self-doubt and responsible adult guilt, Lolo came to live with us.

Shauna Stephenson is the national communications director and lives in Montana. Keep an eye out for future installments in this series.

By Shauna Stephenson.