I started this article previously by stating : “The previous post’s power outage lead to a curious confluence of recent events.” In retrospect, it’s not all that curious: I simply don’t turn the TV on very often, so blown power and no heat prompted a Sunday night at a buddy’s house, ironically catching the television newsmagazine 60 Minutes. That show’s piece of interest focused on Lauren McGough, an American woman from Oklahoma whose become one of Mongolia’s finest Eagle Hunters. The story began in the Mongolian province of Bayan-Ölgii, where Asia China Russia and Kazikstan meet. There, a group of nomads live the lives of 19th century ranchers, Cossacks who make up only 4% of Mongolia’s population, surviving on meat and milk and burning dung for fuel, all the while existing without running water and electricity, that last piece certainly gaining my attention.
Falconry - the ancient art of hunting with birds of prey - was born in this forbidding land, the Altai mountains of central Asia Mongolia. Hunters still loft Golden Eagles into the sky in a partnership of man and bird that that pre-dates recorded history. “This is where it all began it’s the cradle,” said McGough. “Several thousand years ago, we don’t know exactly when, a man saw a Golden Eagle catch a rabbit or a fox and had the ingenious idea to hunt in partnership with it. It blows my mind that’s its even real. It’s like something out of The Lord of the Rings, but you can do it.”
The Mongolian Steppe is the greatest expanse of grassland unaltered by human influence. It endures because human existence has narrow odds between the widest climate extremes on earth - 104 degrees in summer, 50 below in winter. (I was Ulaanbaatar-bound - the capital of Mongolia - in January at the start of this piece until they detailed that winter low). Nomads depend on the animals that yield nearly all of their food fiber clothing and fuel. And one of the oldest bonds in nature is an alliance of survival among hunters, horses, and Golden Eagles. The birds are abundant all around the Northern Hemisphere. In terms of survival as a species, conservationists call Golden Eagles an Animal of Least Concern. It’s a ten-pound animal but as McGough pointed out, don’t be fooled if that doesn’t seem like a lot. “They have hollow bones and are mostly feathers,” she said. “Ten pounds on a bird is an enormous bird. They have a six foot wing span with lovely amber eyes, the name Golden Eagle derived from the lovely feathers they have on their nape, around the neck. They’re quite effective at killing, which is what they’re built for, they are modern day Velociraptor. a perfect product of evolution. I will never be tired of watching a Golden Eagle in flight; every single time I see it, it thrills me.” When I heard that statement, i thought: That’s exactly how I feel about running Ceremony. It’s an endeavor connected to the natural world that will never cease to cause me delight.
Once in the nomad camp, the indigenous culture’s warmth was evident, despite the harsh conditions. “These are the people that can talk to animals, because they have relationships with goats, sheep, horses, camels and eagles,” said McGough. They have intimate knowledge of where snow leopards and foxes are. There’s no agriculture there because the land is unworkable. These people ingeniously learned to work with domestic animals and build these unique relationships with wild animals.” The story closed on a young boy named Bekka, introduced as the hope of his family’s traditional world. He’s learning horsemanship and falconry, and in Bekka 60 minutes discovered the most endangered species of the steppe — the nomads themselves. In our world there may be only 300 eagle hunters left, a rare breed of human still speaking the language of the wild.