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My Side of Frightful’s Mountain

Halfway through college I’m finally beginning to understand and embrace what adulthood may mean. And the deaths of many childhood figures are quickening that passage of time.

On Tuesday the New York Times reported the death of Jean Craighead George, author of My Side of the Mountain and Frightful’s Mountain — two books which transformed my childhood.

Through teenage Sam Gribley’s attempts to live off the land I was inspired to do the same, and although I never ran away into the mountains I learned the survival skills he used. More fascinating to me was Sam’s peregrine falcon, Frightful, who he trained to hunt for him. The expanded story of the falcon as told in Frightful’s Mountain taught me as an elementary school student much about falcons, falconry, and conservation without my realizing it.

Because of Jean Craighead George’s books I was fascinated with falconry, and I perused all the library and the internet had on the topic, including T.H. White’s account of his falconry experience in The Goshawk. George’s books led me to hawk watching, which later expanded to birding. I recorded the types and numbers of birds I saw in my backyard and reported my counts to Cornell’s ebird.org. In middle school I considered studying orthinology at Cornell. I planned how I would become a falconer at 14, the legal age to own one of these birds in New York. How proud I would be to walk around with that royal bird on my gloved fist!

In the end I felt the thousands of dollars necessary to become a falconer was not justified and my parents would not approve. But I did convince my parents to take me to Fire Island to watch hawks as well as to the Hudson Valley Raptor Center, where I saw falconry in action for the first time. When we took a family skiing trip to the Catskills, we drove right by the towns mentioned in Frightful’s Mountain — I was entranced.

As a rising  junior, birding is now only an interest at the back of my mind. I never became a falconer or fulfilled my fancies of living alone in the mountains as Sam did. But those dreams that materialized into suburban interests in wildlife and conservation have given me ideas for a different kind of life. I want to go into urban areas, not away from them. I want to write about people, not animals. As the wonders of young adult life dawn on me, I realize how distanced I am from my childhood dreams. Jean Craighead George’s death only strengthens the separation. But I am forever indebted to her and her books for making my childhood so rich and sweet.



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